Posts Tagged ‘rule of law’

“They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” ― Benjamin Franklin

“Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”—Hermann Goering, German military commander and Hitler’s designated successor

For those who remember when the first towers fell on 9/11, there is an unnerving feeling of déjà vu about the Paris attacks.

Once again, there is that same sense of shock. The same shocking images of carnage and grief dominating the news. The same disbelief that anyone could be so hateful, so monstrous, so evil as to do this to another human being. The same outpourings of support and unity from around the world. The same shared fear that this could easily have happened to us or our loved ones.

Now the drums of war are sounding. French fighter jets have carried out a series of “symbolic” air strikes on Syrian targets. France’s borders have been closed, Paris has been locked down and military personnel are patrolling its streets.

What remains to be seen is whether France, standing where the United States did 14 years ago, will follow in America’s footsteps as she grapples with the best way to shore up her defenses, where to draw the delicate line in balancing security with liberty, and what it means to secure justice for those whose lives were taken.

Here are some of the lessons we in the United States learned too late about allowing our freedoms to be eviscerated in exchange for the phantom promise of security.

Beware of mammoth legislation that expands the government’s powers at the citizenry’s expense. Rushed through Congress a mere 45 days after the 9/11 attacks, the USA Patriot Act drove a stake through the heart of the Bill of Rights, undermined civil liberties, expanded the government’s powers and opened the door to far-reaching surveillance by the government on American citizens.

Pre-emptive strikes will only lead to further blowback. Not content to wage war against Afghanistan, which served as the base for Osama bin Laden, the U.S. embarked on a pre-emptive war against Iraq in order to “stop any adversary challenging America’s military superiority and adopt a strike-first policy against terrorist threats ‘before they’re fully formed.’” We are still suffering the consequences of this failed policy, which has resulted in lives lost, taxpayer dollars wasted, the fomenting of hatred against the U.S. and the further radicalization of terrorist cells.

War is costly. There are many reasons to go to war, but those who have advocated that the U.S. remain at war, year after year, are the very entities that have profited most from these endless military occupations and exercises. Thus far, the U.S. taxpayer has been made to shell out more than $1.6 trillion on “military operations, the training of security forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, weapons maintenance, base support, reconstruction, embassy maintenance, foreign aid, and veterans’ medical care, as well as war-related intelligence operations not tracked by the Pentagon” since 2001. Other estimates that account for war-related spending, veterans’ benefits and various promissory notes place that figure closer to $4.4 trillion. That also does not include the more than 210,000 civilians killed so far, or the 7.6 million refugees displaced from their homes as a result of the endless drone strikes and violence.

Advocating torture makes you no better than terrorists. The horrors that took place at Abu Ghraib, the American-run prison in Iraq, continue to shock those with any decency. Photographs leaked to the media depicted “US military personnel humiliating, hurting and abusing Iraqi prisoners in a myriad of perverse ways. While American servicemen and women smiled and gave thumbs up, naked men were threatened by dogs, or were hooded, forced into sexual positions, placed standing with wires attached to their bodies, or left bleeding on prison floors.” Adding to the descent into moral depravity, the United States government legalized the use of torture, including waterboarding, in violation of international law and continues to sanction human rights violations in the pursuit of national security. The ramifications have been far-reaching, with local police now employing similar torture tactics at secret locations such as Homan Square in Chicago.

Allowing the government to spy on the citizenry will not reduce acts of terrorism, but it will result in a watched, submissive, surveillance society. A byproduct of this post 9/11-age in which we live, whether you’re walking through a store, driving your car, checking email, or talking to friends and family on the phone, you can be sure that some government agency, whether the NSA or some other entity, is listening in and tracking your behavior. This doesn’t even begin to touch on the corporate trackers such as Google that monitor your purchases, web browsing, Facebook posts and other activities taking place in the cyber sphere. We are all becoming data collected in government files. The chilling effect of this endless surveillance is a more anxious and submissive citizenry.

Don’t become so distracted by the news cycle that you lose sight of what the government is doing. The average American has a hard time keeping up with and remembering all of the “events,” manufactured or otherwise, which occur like clockwork and keep us distracted, deluded, amused, and insulated from the reality of the American police state. Whether these events are critical or unimportant, when we’re being bombarded with wall-to-wall news coverage and news cycles that change every few days, it’s difficult to stay focused on one thing—namely, holding the government accountable to abiding by the rule of law—and the powers-that-be understand this. In this way, regularly scheduled trivia and/or distractions that keep the citizenry tuned into the various breaking news headlines and entertainment spectacles also keep them tuned out to the government’s steady encroachments on their freedoms.

If you stop holding the government accountable to the rule of law, the only laws it abides by will be the ones used to clamp down on the citizenry. Having failed to hold government officials accountable to abiding by the rule of law, the American people have found themselves saddled with a government that skirts, flouts and violates the Constitution with little consequence. Overcriminalization, asset forfeiture schemes, police brutality, profit-driven prisons, warrantless surveillance, SWAT team raids, indefinite detentions, covert agencies, and secret courts are just a few of the egregious practices carried out by a government that operates beyond the reach of the law.

Do not turn your country into a battlefield, your citizens into enemy combatants, and your law enforcement officers into extensions of the military. A standing army—something that propelled the early colonists into revolution—strips the citizenry of any vestige of freedom. How can there be any semblance of freedom when there are tanks in the streets, military encampments in cities, Blackhawk helicopters and armed drones patrolling overhead? It was for this reason that those who established America vested control of the military in a civilian government, with a civilian commander-in-chief. They did not want a military government, ruled by force. Rather, they opted for a republic bound by the rule of law: the U.S. Constitution. Unfortunately, we in America now find ourselves struggling to retain some semblance of freedom in the face of police and law enforcement agencies that look and act like the military and have just as little regard for the Fourth Amendment, laws such as the NDAA that allow the military to arrest and indefinitely detain American citizens, and military drills that acclimate the American people to the sight of armored tanks in the streets, military encampments in cities, and combat aircraft patrolling overhead.

As long as you remain fearful and distrustful of each other, you will be incapable of standing united against any threats posed by a power-hungry government. Early on, U.S. officials solved the problem of how to implement their authoritarian policies without incurring a citizen uprising: fear. The powers-that-be want us to feel threatened by forces beyond our control (terrorists, shooters, bombers). They want us afraid and dependent on the government and its militarized armies for our safety and well-being. Most of all, they want us distrustful of each other, divided by our prejudices, and at each other’s throats.

If you trade your freedom for security, the terrorists win. We’ve walked a strange and harrowing road since September 11, 2001, littered with the debris of our once-vaunted liberties. We have gone from a nation that took great pride in being a model of a representative democracy to being a model of how to persuade a freedom-loving people to march in lockstep with a police state. And in so doing, we have proven Osama Bin Laden right. He warned that “freedom and human rights in America are doomed. The U.S. government will lead the American people in — and the West in general — into an unbearable hell and a choking life.”

Battlefield_Cover_300To sum things up, the destruction that began with the 9/11 terror attacks has expanded into an all-out campaign of terror, trauma, acclimation and indoctrination aimed at getting Americans used to life in the American Police State. The bogeyman’s names and faces change over time, but the end result remains the same: our unquestioning acquiescence to anything the government wants to do in exchange for the phantom promise of safety and security has transitioned us to life in a society where government agents routinely practice violence on the citizens while, in conjunction with the Corporate State, spying on the most intimate details of our personal lives.

The lesson learned, as I document in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, is simply this: once you start down the road towards a police state, it will be very difficult to turn back.

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Fully masked and suited up in personal protective clothing and equipment, special agents on the Jacksonville FBI SWAT team pack into a deployment vehicle.

We want no Gestapo or secret police. The FBI is tending in that direction. They are dabbling in sex-life scandals and plain blackmail. J. Edgar Hoover would give his right eye to take over, and all congressmen and senators are afraid of him.[1]—President Harry S. Truman

Secret police. Secret courts. Secret government agencies. Surveillance. Intimidation tactics. Harassment. Torture. Brutality. Widespread corruption. Entrapment schemes.

These are the hallmarks of every authoritarian regime from the Roman Empire to modern-day America, yet it’s the secret police—tasked with silencing dissidents, ensuring compliance, and maintaining a climate of fear—who sound the death knell for freedom in every age.

Every regime has its own name for its secret police: Mussolini’s OVRA carried out phone surveillance on government officials.[2] Stalin’s NKVD carried out large-scale purges, terror and depopulation.[3] Hitler’s Gestapo went door to door ferreting out dissidents and other political “enemies” of the state.[4] And in the U.S., it’s the Federal Bureau of Investigation that does the dirty work of ensuring compliance, keeping tabs on potential dissidents, and punishing those who dare to challenge the status quo.

Whether the FBI is planting undercover agents in churches, synagogues and mosques; issuing fake emergency letters to gain access to Americans’ phone records; using intimidation tactics to silence Americans who are critical of the government,[5] or persuading impressionable individuals to plot acts of terror and then entrapping them,[6] the overall impression of the nation’s secret police force is that of a well-dressed thug, flexing its muscles and doing the boss’ dirty work.

Indeed, a far cry from the glamorized G-men depicted in Hollywood film noirs and spy thrillers, the government’s henchmen have become the embodiment of how power, once acquired, can be so easily corrupted and abused.

Case in point: the FBI is being sued after its agents, lacking sufficient evidence to acquire a search warrant, disabled a hotel’s internet and then impersonated Internet repair technicians in order to gain access to a hotel suite and record the activities of the room’s occupants. Justifying the warrantless search as part of a sting on internet gambling, FBI officials insisted that citizens should not expect the same right to privacy in the common room of a hotel suite as they would at home in their bedroom.[7]

Far from being tough on crime, FBI agents are also among the nation’s most notorious lawbreakers. In fact, in addition to creating certain crimes in order to then “solve” them, the FBI also gives certain informants permission to break the law, “including everything from buying and selling illegal drugs to bribing government officials and plotting robberies,” in exchange for their cooperation on other fronts.[8] USA Today estimates that agents have authorized criminals to engage in as many as 15 crimes a day.[9] Some of these informants are getting paid astronomical sums: one particularly unsavory fellow, later arrested for attempting to run over a police officer, was actually paid $85,000 for his help laying the trap for an entrapment scheme.[10]

In a stunning development reported by The Washington Post, a probe into misconduct by an FBI agent has resulted in the release of at least a dozen convicted drug dealers from prison. Several suspects awaiting trial have also been freed, and more could be released as the unnamed agent’s caseload comes under scrutiny. As the Post reports: “The scope and type of alleged misconduct by the agent have not been revealed, but defense lawyers involved in the cases described the mass freeing of felons as virtually unprecedented—and an indication that convictions could be in jeopardy. Prosecutors are periodically faced with having to drop cases over police misconduct, but it is unusual to free those who have been found guilty.”[11]

In addition to procedural misconduct, trespassing, enabling criminal activity, and damaging private property, the FBI’s laundry list of crimes against the American people includes surveillance, disinformation, blackmail, entrapment, intimidation tactics, and harassment.

For example, the Associated Press recently lodged a complaint with the Dept. of Justice after learning that FBI agents created a fake AP news story and emailed it, along with a clickable link, to a bomb threat suspect in order to implant tracking technology onto his computer and identify his location.[12] Lambasting the agency, AP attorney Karen Kaiser railed, “The FBI may have intended this false story as a trap for only one person. However, the individual could easily have reposted this story to social networks, distributing to thousands of people, under our name, what was essentially a piece of government disinformation.”[13]

Then again, to those familiar with COINTELPRO, an FBI program created to “disrupt, misdirect, discredit, and neutralize” groups and individuals the government considers politically objectionable,[14] it should come as no surprise that the agency has mastered the art of government disinformation.

The FBI has been particularly criticized in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks for targeting vulnerable individuals and not only luring them into fake terror plots but actually equipping them with the organization, money, weapons and motivation to carry out the plots—entrapment—and then jailing them for their so-called terrorist plotting. This is what the FBI characterizes as “forward leaning—preventative—prosecutions.”[15]

Another fallout from 9/11, National Security Letters, one of the many illicit powers authorized by the USA Patriot Act, allows the FBI to secretly demand that banks, phone companies, and other businesses provide them with customer information and not disclose the demands.[16] An internal audit of the agency found that the FBI practice of issuing tens of thousands of NSLs every year for sensitive information such as phone and financial records, often in non-emergency cases, is riddled with widespread violations.[17]

The FBI’s surveillance capabilities, on a par with the National Security Agency, boast a nasty collection of spy tools ranging from Stingray devices that can track the location of cell phones to Triggerfish devices which allow agents to eavesdrop on phone calls.[18]  In one case, the FBI actually managed to remotely reprogram a “suspect’s” wireless internet card so that it would send “real-time cell-site location data to Verizon, which forwarded the data to the FBI.”[19]

Now the FBI is seeking to expand its already invasive hacking powers to allow agents to hack into any computer, anywhere in the world.[20] As journalist Brett Wilkins warns:

If the proposed rule change is approved, the FBI would have the power to unleash “network investigative techniques” against computers anywhere in the world, allowing the agency to secretly install malware and spyware on any computer, effectively allowing it to control that computer and all its stored information. The FBI could download all the computer’s digital contents, switch its camera or microphone on or off and even control other computers in its network.[21]

And then there’s James Comey, current director of the FBI, who knows enough to say all the right things about the need to abide by the Constitution, all the while his agency routinely discards it. Comey has this idea that the government’s powers shouldn’t be limited, especially when it comes to carrying out surveillance on American citizens.[22] Responding to reports that Apple and Google are creating smart phones that will be more difficult to hack into, Comey has been lobbying Congress and the White House to force technology companies to keep providing the government with backdoor access to Americans’ cell phones.[23]

It’s not all Comey’s fault, though. This transformation of the FBI into a secret police force can be traced back to the days of J. Edgar Hoover. As author Anthony S. Summers points out, it was Hoover who “built the first federal fingerprint bank, and his Identification Division would eventually offer instant access to the prints of 159 million people. His Crime Laboratory became the most advanced in the world.”[24]

Eighty years after Hoover instituted the FBI’s first fingerprint “database”—catalogued on index cards, no less—the agency’s biometric database has grown to massive proportions, the largest in the world, encompassing everything from fingerprints, palm, face and iris scans[25] to DNA,[26] and is being increasingly shared between federal, state and local law enforcement agencies in an effort to target potential criminals long before they ever commit a crime. This is what’s known as pre-crime.

If it were just about fighting the “bad guys,” that would be one thing. But as countless documents make clear, the FBI has a long track record of abusing its extensive powers in order to blackmail politicians, spy on celebrities[27] and high-ranking government officials,[28] and intimidate dissidents of all stripes.[29] It’s an old tactic, used effectively by former authoritarian regimes.

In fact, as historian Robert Gellately documents, the Nazi police state was repeatedly touted as a model for other nations to follow, so much so that Hoover actually sent one of his right-hand men, Edmund Patrick Coffey, to Berlin in January 1938 at the invitation of Germany’s secret police. As Gellately noted, “[A]fter five years of Hitler’s dictatorship, the Nazi police had won the FBI’s seal of approval.”[30]

Indeed, so impressed was the FBI with the Nazi order that, as the New York Times recently revealed, in the decades after World War II, the FBI, along with other government agencies, aggressively recruited at least a thousand Nazis, including some of Hitler’s highest henchmen, brought them to America, hired them on as spies and informants, and then carried out a massive cover-up campaign to ensure that their true identities and ties to Hitler’s holocaust machine would remain unknown. Moreover, anyone who dared to blow the whistle on the FBI’s illicit Nazi ties found himself spied upon, intimidated, harassed and labeled a threat to national security.[31]

So not only have American taxpayers have been paying to keep ex-Nazis on the government payroll for decades but we’ve been subjected to the very same tactics used by the Third Reich: surveillance, militarized police, overcriminalization, and a government mindset that views itself as operating outside the bounds of the law.

A Government of Wolves book coverYet as I point out in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State,[32] it’s no coincidence that the similarities between the American police state and past totalitarian regimes such as Nazi Germany grow more pronounced with each passing day. This is how freedom falls, and tyrants come to power.

Suffice it to say that when and if a true history of the FBI is ever written, it will not only track the rise of the American police state but it will also chart the decline of freedom in America: how a nation that once abided by the rule of law and held the government accountable for its actions has steadily devolved into a police state where justice is one-sided, a corporate elite runs the show, representative government is a mockery, police are extensions of the military, surveillance is rampant, privacy is extinct, and the law is little more than a tool for the government to browbeat the people into compliance.

[1] Anthony S. Summers, “The secret life of J Edgar Hoover,” The Guardian (Dec. 31, 2011), http://www.theguardian.com/film/2012/jan/01/j-edgar-hoover-secret-fbi.

[2] Peter Neville, Mussolini (Routledge, 2014), http://books.google.com/books?id=GCyDBAAAQBAJ&pg=PT90&lpg=PT90&dq=mussolini+ovra&source=bl&ots=VevTl8pne8&sig=UZFsLzO2zGc4a-QQdvg_YQ71fFA&hl=en&sa=X&ei=sL5YVNmPLYfasASStYDACw&ved=0CFAQ6AEwCDgK#v=onepage&q=mussolini%20ovra&f=false.

[3] “Revelations from the Russian Archives: Secret Police,” Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/archives/secr.html.

[4] “SS Police,” U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, http://www.ushmm.org/outreach/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007675.

[5] Earl Ofari Hutchinson, “The FBI Walks a Perilous Line Between Surveillance and Outright Spying,” The Huffington Post (Aug. 18, 2013), http://www.huffingtonpost.com/earl-ofari-hutchinson/the-fbi-walks-a-perilous-_b_3447225.html.

[6] William Norman Grigg, “The FBI: An American Cheka,” Lew Rockwell (June 4, 2013), http://www.lewrockwell.com/2013/06/william-norman-grigg/the-american-secret-police/.

[7] Dugald McConnell and Brian Todd, “Undercover sting: FBI agents posed as Internet repairmen,” CNN (Oct. 30, 2014), http://www.cnn.com/2014/10/30/us/fbi-sting-internet/.

[8] Brad Heath, “Exclusive: FBI allowed informants to commit 5,600 crimes,” USA Today (Aug. 4, 2013), http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/08/04/fbi-informant-crimes-report/2613305/.

[9] Brad Heath, “Exclusive: FBI allowed informants to commit 5,600 crimes,” USA Today (Aug. 4, 2013), http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/08/04/fbi-informant-crimes-report/2613305/.

[10] Paul Harris, “Fake terror plots, paid informants: the tactics of FBI ‘entrapment’ questioned,” The Guardian (Nov. 16, 2011), http://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/nov/16/fbi-entrapment-fake-terror-plots.

[11] Peter Hermann, “Probe of FBI agent leads to release of convicted drug dealers from prison,” The Washington Post (Oct. 31, 2014), http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/crime/probe-of-fbi-agent-leads-to-convicted-drug-dealers-released-from-prison/2014/10/31/48e7b1e6-6064-11e4-9f3a-7e28799e0549_story.html.

[12] Karen Kaiser, “Letter to Attorney General Eric Holder,” Associated Press (Oct. 30, 2014), https://corpcommap.files.wordpress.com/2014/10/letter_103014.pdf.

[13] Karen Kaiser, “Letter to Attorney General Eric Holder,” Associated Press (Oct. 30, 2014), https://corpcommap.files.wordpress.com/2014/10/letter_103014.pdf.

[14] Earl Ofari Hutchinson, “The FBI Walks a Perilous Line Between Surveillance and Outright Spying,” The Huffington Post (Aug. 18, 2013), http://www.huffingtonpost.com/earl-ofari-hutchinson/the-fbi-walks-a-perilous-_b_3447225.html.

[15] Paul Harris, “Fake terror plots, paid informants: the tactics of FBI ‘entrapment’ questioned,” The Guardian (Nov. 16, 2011), http://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/nov/16/fbi-entrapment-fake-terror-plots.

[16] “FBI ‘secretly spying’ on Google users, company reveals,” FOX News (March 6, 2013), http://www.foxnews.com/tech/2013/03/06/fbi-ecretly-spying-on-google-users-company-reveals/.

[17] “Judge rules secret FBI national security letters unconstitutional,” FOX News (March 16, 2013), http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2013/03/16/judge-rules-secret-fbi-letters-unconstitutional/.

[18] Ryan Gallagher, “FBI Files Reveal New Info on Clandestine Phone Surveillance Unit,” Slate (Oct. 8, 2013), http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2013/10/08/fbi_wireless_intercept_and_tracking_team_files_reveal_new_information_on.html.

[19] Kim Zetter, “Secrets of FBI Smartphone Surveillance Tool Revealed in Court Fight,” Wired (April 9, 2013), http://www.wired.com/2013/04/verizon-rigmaiden-aircard/all/.

[20] Brett Wilkins, “FBI Seeking New Invasive Global Hacking Powers,” Ethics in Tech (Nov. 1, 2014), https://www.ethicsintech.com/fbi-seeking-invasive-global-hacking-powers/.

[21] Brett Wilkins, “FBI Seeking New Invasive Global Hacking Powers,” Ethics in Tech (Nov. 1, 2014), https://www.ethicsintech.com/fbi-seeking-invasive-global-hacking-powers/.

[22] Ravi Mandalia, “FBI chief lashes out at Apple, Google over default cell-phone encryption,” TechieNews (Sept. 28, 2014), http://www.techienews.co.uk/9718566/fbi-chief-lashes-apple-google-default-cell-phone-encryption/.

[23] Ravi Mandalia, “FBI chief lashes out at Apple, Google over default cell-phone encryption,” TechieNews (Sept. 28, 2014), http://www.techienews.co.uk/9718566/fbi-chief-lashes-apple-google-default-cell-phone-encryption/.

[24] Anthony S. Summers, “The secret life of J Edgar Hoover,” The Guardian (Dec. 31, 2011), http://www.theguardian.com/film/2012/jan/01/j-edgar-hoover-secret-fbi.

[25] Robert L. Mitchell, “Gotcha! FBI launches new biometric systems to nail criminals,” Computerworld (Dec. 19, 2013), http://www.computerworld.com/article/2486963/security0/gotcha-fbi-launches-new-biometric-systems-to-nail-criminals.html.

[26] Paul Rincon, “FBI’s DNA database upgrade plans come under fire,” BBC News (Oct. 17, 2011), http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-15311718.

[27] Amanda Carey, “FBI opens ‘The Vault,’ UFOs, Jimi Hendrix and Malcolm X fly out,” Daily Caller (April 8, 2011), http://dailycaller.com/2011/04/08/fbi-opens-the-vault-ufos-jimi-hendrix-and-malcolm-x-fly-out/.

[28] Anthony S. Summers, “The secret life of J Edgar Hoover,” The Guardian (Dec. 31, 2011), http://www.theguardian.com/film/2012/jan/01/j-edgar-hoover-secret-fbi.

[29] Adam Cohen, “While Nixon Campaigned, the F.B.I. Watched John Lennon,” New York Times (Sept. 21, 2006), http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/21/opinion/21thu4.html?_r=0.

[30] Robert Gellately, Backing Hitler: Consent and Coercion in Nazi Germany (Oxford University Press, 2001), http://books.google.com/books?id=jCiGWtxyQv0C&pg=PT95&lpg=PT95&dq=gellately+edmund+coffey&source=bl&ots=G4JHwvD5AU&sig=WkXKIkL5Ip-oJ05H_15XA3CIWww&hl=en&sa=X&ei=NOlYVJT-H8GRsQSjk4HYDQ&ved=0CCYQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=gellately%20edmund%20coffey&f=false.

[31] Eric Lichtblau, “In Cold War, U.S. Spy Agencies Used 1,000 Nazis,” New York Times (Oct. 26, 2014), http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/27/us/in-cold-war-us-spy-agencies-used-1000-nazis.html.

[32] John W. Whitehead, A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State (SelectBooks, 2013), http://www.amazon.com/Government-Wolves-Emerging-American-Police/dp/1590799755/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top.

The Obama administration’s unapologetic rationale for using drones to kill U.S. citizens sends a clear and urgent message about the need to limit the government’s use of these devices domestically. We cannot afford to be lulled into a sense of complacency by legislation placing temporary moratoriums on drones. As with other weapons of war which have become routine weapons of compliance domestically, such as tasers and sound cannons, once drones are unleashed on the American people, there will be no limiting their use by government agencies.

To this end, The Rutherford Institute has called on government officials at the local, state, and federal level to do their part to safeguard Americans against the use of drones by police. Rutherford Institute attorneys have drafted and made available to the public language that can be adopted at all levels of government in order to address concerns being raised about the threats posed by drones to citizens’ privacy.

As a resident of Charlottesville, Va., the head of a national civil liberties organization based in Virginia, and a citizen of the United States, I am very familiar with the challenges involved in balancing local priorities with national concerns. However, I do not believe that one precludes the other. Indeed, I have always subscribed to the idea that we must think nationally, but act locally. If our freedoms are to be protected, let alone restored, taking action at the local level must be the starting point.

Government representatives are not only charged with addressing our needs at the community level but they also have a duty to relay our concerns as residents and citizens to state and federal branches of government when appropriate. Just as federal and state policies trickle down and impact us at the local level, we must ensure that our concerns and needs trickle up. Therefore, when either state or national governmental entities overstep constitutional bounds, it is imperative that our local government address these issues.

The concept of taking a stand at the local level in order to voice concerns about issues of national importance is as old as America itself. It was in the homes and town halls of the American colonies that concepts of liberty and freedom from British tyranny were first discussed, before any program of a national scale could be set in motion. The Raleigh Tavern in Williamsburg was one such meeting spot, where men such as Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson created the first Committee of Correspondence in Virginia, a local group concerned with the mounting oppression at the hands of the British experienced throughout the colonies. The establishment of Committees of Correspondence throughout the colonies eventually led to a Continental Congress, where the Declaration of Independence was adopted and America’s slow march toward freedom began.

Getting back to the Obama administration’s so-called “legal case” for carrying out drone strikes on American citizens, there is no legal case to be made for an act that is illegal, immoral and contrary to every fundamental and decent principle on which this nation was founded. Frankly, this is no different from the Bush administration’s legal justification of waterboarding as a legitimate torture technique and no less repugnant. Americans should be up in arms.

Entirely lacking in accountability and legal justification, Obama’s “legal” rationale for using drones to kill American citizens takes to new heights Richard Nixon’s brazen claim that “if the president does it, it’s not illegal.”

Entirely lacking in accountability and legal justification, Obama’s “legal” rationale for using drones to kill American citizens takes to new heights Richard Nixon’s brazen claim that “if the president does it, it’s not illegal.” No matter what is said to the contrary, the Constitution does not in any way provide for the president to engage in such acts, even under the auspices of his role as Commander in Chief.  In fact, the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantees of due process, intended to protect citizens in the event that the government attempts to overreach its authority, assure every American citizen that before the government can imprison them or put them to death, they have a right to hear the charges being levied against them, review the evidence, and be treated to a fair and impartial trial by a judge or jury.

Obama, by his actions, is circumventing the Constitution, especially as it pertains to the rights of American citizens. Indeed, in a decision he claims was “an easy one,” Obama has already killed two American citizens in this fashion: Anwar al-Awlaki, an American cleric living in Yemen who served as a propagandist for Al-Qaeda, and his 16-year-old son.

That Obama, schooled in the law and having himself taught constitutional law, can so glibly disregard the Constitution’s requirement of due process for American citizens is particularly troubling. Therein lies the danger of Obama, one overlooked by his supporters in their zeal to retain the White House and greatly underestimated by his opponents: he has become a law unto himself. Should we fail to recognize and rectify the danger in allowing a single individual to declare himself the exception to the rule of law and assume the role of judge, jury, and executioner, we will have no one else to blame when we plunge once and for all into the abyss that is tyranny. — John W. Whitehead