Posts Tagged ‘indefinite detention’

holocaust

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”—Martin Niemoller

Despite what some may think, the Constitution is no magical incantation against government wrongdoing. Indeed, it’s only as effective as those who abide by it. However, without courts willing to uphold the Constitution’s provisions when government officials disregard it and a citizenry knowledgeable enough to be outraged when those provisions are undermined, it provides little to no protection against SWAT team raids, domestic surveillance, police shootings of unarmed citizens, indefinite detentions, and the like.

Unfortunately, the courts and the police have meshed in their thinking to such an extent that anything goes when it’s done in the name of national security, crime fighting and terrorism. Consequently, America no longer operates under a system of justice characterized by due process, an assumption of innocence, probable cause and clear prohibitions on government overreach and police abuse. Instead, our courts of justice have been transformed into courts of order, advocating for the government’s interests, rather than championing the rights of the citizenry, as enshrined in the Constitution.

Just recently, for example, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in U.S. v. Westhoven that driving too carefully, with a rigid posture, taking a scenic route, and having acne are sufficient reasons for a police officer to suspect you of doing something illegal, detain you, search your car, and arrest you—even if you’ve done nothing illegal to warrant the stop in the first place.

In that same vein, the U.S. Supreme Court declared in a 5-4 ruling in Navarette v. California that police officers can, under the guise of “reasonable suspicion,” stop cars and question drivers based solely on anonymous tips, no matter how dubious, and whether or not they themselves witnessed any troubling behavior.

And then you have the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear Hedges v. Obama, a legal challenge to the indefinite detention provision of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 (NDAA), thereby affirming that the President and the U.S. military can arrest and indefinitely detain individuals, including American citizens, based on a suspicion that they might be associated with or aiding terrorist organizations.

All three cases reflect a mindset in which the rule of law, the U.S. Constitution, once the map by which we navigated sometimes hostile terrain, has been unceremoniously booted out of the runaway car that is our government, driven over and left for road kill on the side of the road. All that can be seen in the rear view mirror are the tire marks on its ragged frame.

What we are dealing with, as I document in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, is a run-away government hyped up on its own power, whose policies are dictated more by paranoia than need. Making matters worse, “we the people” have become so gullible, so easily distracted, and so out-of-touch that we are ignoring the warning signs all around us and failing to demand that government officials of all stripes—the White House, Congress, the courts, the military, law enforcement, the endless parade of bureaucrats, etc.—respect our rights and abide by the rule of law.

The Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the NDAA indefinite detention case—which challenged whether the government can lawfully lock up American citizens who might be deemed extremists or terrorists (the government likes to use these words interchangeably) for criticizing the government—is one such warning sign that we would do well to heed.

The building blocks are already in place for such an eventuality: the surveillance networks, fusion centers and government contractors already monitor what is being said by whom; government databases track who poses a potential threat to the government’s power; the militarized police, working in conjunction with federal agencies, coordinate with the federal government when it’s time to round up the troublemakers; the courts sanction the government’s methods, no matter how unlawful; and the detention facilities, whether private prisons or FEMA internment camps, to lock up the troublemakers.

For those who can read the writing on the wall, it’s all starting to make sense: the military drills carried out in major American cities, the VIPR inspections at train depots and bus stations, the SWAT team raids on unsuspecting homeowners, the Black Hawk helicopters patrolling American skies, the massive ammunition purchases by various federal agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Education, the IRS and the Social Security Administration.

Viewed in conjunction with the government’s increasing use of involuntary commitment laws to declare individuals mentally ill and lock them up in psychiatric wards for extended periods of time, the NDAA’s provision allowing the military to arrest and indefinitely detain anyone, including American citizens, only codifies this unraveling of our constitutional framework.

Throw in the profit-driven corporate incentive to jail Americans in private prisons, as well as the criminalizing of such relatively innocent activities as holding Bible studies in one’s home or sharing unpasteurized goat cheese with members of one’s community, and it becomes clear that “we the people” have become enemies of the state. Thus, it’s no longer a question of whether the government will lock up Americans for First Amendment activity but when. (It’s particularly telling that the government’s lawyers, when pressed for an assurance that those exercising their First Amendment rights in order to criticize the government would not be targeted under the NDAA, refused to provide one.)

History shows that the U.S. government is not averse to locking up its own citizens for its own purposes. One need only go back to the 1940s, when the federal government proclaimed that Japanese-Americans, labeled potential dissidents, could be put in concentration (a.k.a. internment) camps based only upon their ethnic origin, to see the lengths the federal government will go to in order to maintain “order” in the homeland. The U.S. Supreme Court validated the detention program in Korematsu v. US (1944), concluding that the government’s need to ensure the safety of the country trumped personal liberties. That decision has never been overturned.

In fact, the creation of detention camps domestically has long been part of the government’s budget and operations, falling under the jurisdiction of FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA’s murky history dates back to the 1970s, when President Carter created it by way of an executive order merging many of the government’s disaster relief agencies into one large agency. During the 1980s, however, reports began to surface of secret military-type training exercises carried out by FEMA and the Department of Defense. Code named Rex-84, 34 federal agencies, including the CIA and the Secret Service, were trained on how to deal with domestic civil unrest.

FEMA’s role in creating top-secret American internment camps is well-documented. But be careful who you share this information with: it turns out that voicing concerns about the existence of FEMA detention camps is among the growing list of opinions and activities which may make a federal agent or government official think you’re an extremist (a.k.a. terrorist), or sympathetic to terrorist activities, and thus qualify you for indefinite detention under the NDAA. Also included in that list of “dangerous” viewpoints are advocating states’ rights, believing the state to be unnecessary or undesirable, “conspiracy theorizing,” concern about alleged FEMA camps, opposition to war, organizing for “economic justice,” frustration with “mainstream ideologies,” opposition to abortion, opposition to globalization, and ammunition stockpiling.

Now if you’re going to have internment camps on American soil, someone has to build them. Thus, in 2006, it was announced that Kellogg Brown and Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton, had been awarded a $385 million contract to build American detention facilities. Although the government and Halliburton were not forthcoming about where or when these domestic detention centers would be built, they rationalized the need for them in case of “an emergency influx of immigrants, or to support the rapid development of new programs” in the event of other emergencies such as “natural disasters.”

Of course, these detention camps will have to be used for anyone viewed as a threat to the government, and that includes political dissidents. So it’s no coincidence that the U.S. government has, since the 1980s, acquired and maintained, without warrant or court order, a database of names and information on Americans considered to be threats to the nation. As Salon reports, this database, reportedly dubbed “Main Core,” is to be used by the Army and FEMA in times of national emergency or under martial law to locate and round up Americans seen as threats to national security. As of 2008, there were some 8 million Americans in the Main Core database.

Fast forward to 2009, when the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released two reports, one on “Rightwing Extremism,” which broadly defines rightwing extremists as individuals and groups “that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely,” and one on “Leftwing Extremism,” which labeled environmental and animal rights activist groups as extremists. Both reports use the words terrorist and extremist interchangeably. That same year, the DHS launched Operation Vigilant Eagle, which calls for surveillance of military veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, characterizing them as extremists and potential domestic terrorist threats because they may be “disgruntled, disillusioned or suffering from the psychological effects of war.”

These reports indicate that for the government, so-called extremism is not a partisan matter. Anyone seen as opposing the government—whether they’re Left, Right or somewhere in between—is a target, which brings us back, full circle, to where we started, with the NDAA’s indefinite detention provision, whose language is so broad and vague as to implicate anyone critical of the government.

Unfortunately, we seem to be coming full circle on many fronts. Consider that a decade ago we were debating whether non-citizens—for example, so-called enemy combatants being held at Guantanamo Bay and Muslim-Americans rounded up in the wake of 9/11—were entitled to protections under the Constitution, specifically as they relate to indefinite detention. Americans weren’t overly concerned about the rights of non-citizens then, and now we’re the ones in the unenviable position of being targeted for indefinite detention by our own government.

Similarly, most Americans weren’t unduly concerned when the U.S. Supreme Court gave Arizona police officers the green light to stop, search and question anyone—ostensibly those fitting a particular racial profile—they suspect might be an illegal immigrant. Two years later, the cops have carte blanche authority to stop any individual, citizen and non-citizen alike, they suspect might be doing something illegal (mind you, in this age of overcriminalization, that could be anything from feeding the birds to growing exotic orchids).

Likewise, you still have a sizeable portion of the population today unconcerned about the government’s practice of spying on Americans, having been brainwashed into believing that if you’re not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about. It will only be a matter of time before they learn the hard way that in a police state, it doesn’t matter who you are or how righteous you claim to be—eventually, you will be lumped in with everyone else and everything you do will be “wrong” and suspect.

Martin Niemoller learned that particular lesson the hard way. A German military officer turned theologian, Niemoller was an early supporter of Hitler’s rise to power. It was only when Hitler threatened to attack the churches that Niemoller openly opposed the regime. For his efforts, Neimoller was arrested, charged with activities against the government, fined, detained, and eventually interned in the Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps from 1938 to 1945.

As Niemoller reportedly replied when asked by his cellmate why he ever supported the Nazi party:

I find myself wondering about that too. I wonder about it as much as I regret it. Still, it is true that Hitler betrayed me… Hitler promised me on his word of honor, to protect the Church, and not to issue any anti-Church laws. He also agreed not to allow pogroms against the Jews… Hitler’s assurance satisfied me at the time…I am paying for that mistake now; and not me alone, but thousands of other persons like me.

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“Much of our foreign policy now depends on the hope of benevolent dictators and philosopher kings. The law can’t help. The law is what the kings say it is.”—Ta-Nehisi Coateswriting for The Atlantic

“If George Bush had done this, it would have been stopped.”—Joe Scarborough, former Republican congressman and current MSNBC pundit

When Barack Obama ascended to the presidency in 2008, there was a sense, at least among those who voted for him, that the country might change for the better. Those who watched in awe as President Bush chipped away at our civil liberties over the course of his two terms as president thought that maybe this young, charismatic Senator from Illinois would reverse course and put an end to some of the Bush administration’s worst transgressions—the indefinite detention of suspected terrorists, the torture, the black site prisons, and the never-ending wars that have drained our resources, to name just a few.

A few short years later, that fantasy has proven to be just that: a fantasy. Indeed, Barack Obama has not only carried on the Bush legacy, but has taken it to its logical conclusion. As president, Obama has gone beyond Guantanamo Bay, gone beyond spying on Americans’ emails and phone calls, and gone beyond bombing countries without Congressional authorization. He now claims, as revealed in a leaked Department of Justice memo, the right to murder any American citizen the world over, so long as he has a feeling that they might, at some point in the future, pose a threat to the United States.

Let that sink in. The President of the United States of America believes he has the absolute right to kill you based upon secret “evidence” that you might be a terrorist. Not only does he think he can kill you, but he believes he has the right to do so in secret, without formally charging you of any crime and providing you with an opportunity to defend yourself in a court of law. To top it all off, the memo asserts that these decisions about whom to kill are not subject to any judicial review whatsoever.

The President of the United States of America believes he has the absolute right to kill you based upon secret “evidence” that you might be a terrorist. Not only does he think he can kill you, but he believes he has the right to do so in secret, without formally charging you of any crime and providing you with an opportunity to defend yourself in a court of law. To top it all off, the memo asserts that these decisions about whom to kill are not subject to any judicial review whatsoever. This is what one would call Mafia-style justice, when one powerful overlord—in this case, the president—gets to decide whether you live or die based solely on his own peculiar understanding of right and wrong. This is how far we have fallen in the twelve years since 9/11, through our negligence and our failure to hold our leaders in both political parties accountable to the principles enshrined in the Constitution.

This is what one would call Mafia-style justice, when one powerful overlord—in this case, the president—gets to decide whether you live or die based solely on his own peculiar understanding of right and wrong. This is how far we have fallen in the twelve years since 9/11, through our negligence and our failure to hold our leaders in both political parties accountable to the principles enshrined in the Constitution.

According to the leaked Department of Justice memo, there are certain “conditions” under which it is acceptable for the president to kill a U.S. citizen without the basic trappings of American justice, i.e., a lawyer and a fair hearing before a neutral judge.

First, you have to be suspected of being a “senior operational leader” of al-Qaeda or an “associated force.” Of course, neither of these terms is defined. Making matters worse, the government doesn’t actually have to prove that you’re an “operational leader.” It simply has to suspect that you are. (Of course, if all it takes for the government to pull the trigger and kill a U.S. citizen is a hunch, then the rest of the conditions set out in the memo are moot.)

Second, capturing you has to be “infeasible.” Easy enough, since “infeasibility of capture” includes being unable to capture someone without putting American troops in harm’s way.

Third, you must pose “an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States,” whether or not you can actually execute an attack on our soil. Before you breathe a sigh of relief that perhaps your neck is safe now, keep in mind that the imminence requirement “does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future.” The Bush administration should get some credit here, since it was their creative parsing of the “imminent” threat posed by Saddam Hussein and his so-called weapons of mass destruction that inspired the Obama lawyers to play footloose with the laws on killing American citizens.

In short, by simply asserting that an American citizen is an enemy of the United States, the Obama administration has given itself the authority to murder that individual. This pales in comparison to George W. Bush’s assertion that he could detain an American citizen indefinitely simply by labeling him an enemy combatant.

Compounding this travesty, the Obama administration also insists that the power to target a U.S. citizen for murder applies to any “informed, high-level official of the U.S. government,” not just the president. Therefore, any bureaucrat or politician, if appointed to a high enough position, can target an American for execution by way of drone strikes.

It’s been done before. Without proving that they were “senior operational leaders” of any terrorist organization, the Obama administration used drone strikes to assassinate Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, both American citizens.

So now we find ourselves at this strange, surreal juncture where clear-cut definitions of right and wrong and the rule of law have been upended by legal parsing, government corruption, corporate greed, partisan games, and politicians with questionable morals and little-to-no loyalty to the American people.

It’s a short skip and a jump from a scenario where the president authorizes drone strikes on American citizens abroad to one in which a high-level bureaucrat authorizes a drone strike on American citizens here in the United States. It’s only a matter of time. Obama has already opened the door to drones flying in American skies—an estimated 30,000 by 2015, and a $30 billion per year industry to boot.

Yet no matter how much legislation we pass to protect ourselves from these aerial threats being used against us domestically, either to monitor our activities or force us into compliance, as long as the president is allowed to unilaterally determine who is a threat and who deserves to die by way of a drone strike, we are all in danger.

This is surely the beginning of the end of the republic. Not only are we upending the rule of law, but killing people across the globe without accountability seriously undermines America’s long term relationships with other nations. The use of drones to kill American citizens demonstrates just how out of control the so-called “war on terror” has become. A war that by definition cannot be won has expanded to encompass the entire globe. This confirms the fears of those who have been watching as the American drone program has slowly expanded from targeting members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan to include any person the president cares to see eliminated, not to mention the countless civilians killed along the way.

Retired general Stanley McChrystal has said that drone strikes are “hated on a visceral level” and feed into a “perception of American arrogance.” By attacking small time jihadists, as well as innocent civilians, the American government further inflames populations where terrorist groups are embedded, exciting anti-American sentiment among those who may have previously been an asset to America’s relationship with Muslim countries. In fact, McChrystal and former CIA director Michael Hayden have both expressed concern that American drone strikes are “targeting low-level militants who do not pose a direct threat to the United States.”

For example, Salem Ahmed bin Ali Jaber, a Muslim cleric in Yemen gave a long sermon in August 2012 denouncing Al-Qaeda. A few days later, three members of Al-Qaeda showed up to his neighborhood, saying they wanted to talk with Jaber. Jaber agreed, bringing along his cousin Waleed Abdullah, a police officer, for protection. In the middle of the conversation, a hail of American missiles rained down upon the men, killing them all.

Incidents such as these are the exact reason that America cannot seem to bring an end to its myriad military commitments abroad.  By undermining our potential allies, we simply further endanger American lives. According to Naji al Zaydi, an opponent of Al-Qaeda and former governor of Marib province in Yemen, “some of these young guys getting killed have just been recruited and barely known what terrorism means.” In direct opposition to the stated goal of the “war on terror,” we are creating enemies abroad who will gladly look forward to the day when the United States falls in on itself, like the Roman Empire before it.

Unfortunately, there seems to be no exit from this situation. Too many high-level officials, both Democrats and Republicans, either don’t care, or actively champion the murder of American citizens and innocent civilians alike by the president. As journalist Amy Goodman put it, “the recent excesses of U.S. presidential power are not transient aberrations, but the creation of a frightening new normal, where drone strikes, warrantless surveillance, assassination and indefinite detention are conducted with arrogance and impunity, shielded by secrecy and beyond the reach of law.” — John W. Whitehead