Civil liberties are still the victim in the War on Terror

Source |

“No nation could reserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.” – James Madison, 1795

The 9/11 tragedy marked a sea change in the course of U.S. politics. Civil liberties/privacy concerns, although constitutionally guaranteed, were quickly swept aside by an overwhelming desire to enact revenge on the terrorists. Quickly deliberated and facing negligible opposition, the USA Patriot Act was passed 45 days after 9/11 in the name of national security. The law was never debated, never run through a judicial vetting, and never subject to amendments to soften the impact of the act on civil rights/citizen privacy. The Patriot Act radically changed the ground rules for government surveillance. Safeguards built into the system were disregarded. It became easier, without judicial oversight, to monitor phone and email communications, track activities of innocent Americans on the Internet, and track bank and reporting records. The Patriot Act became the benchmark for the ongoing attack on civil rights and individual privacy. That which is left unexamined eventually becomes invisible, whether it is civil liberties, the war in Afghanistan, unaccountability or Guantanamo.

The current administration has continued its goverance in the shadows just as the previous administration did. The previous administration, which introduced the U.S. to torture, rendition, black sites, cover-ups, unparalleled spin, scare tactics, and the curse of civilian contractors would then legalize their actions after the fact. The previous administration disclosed as little as it could about government activities; the current administration is doing the same thing. Some have suggested the drone program can be used to monitor conversations and activities within the U.S.

A drone is an unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV, armed and remotely controlled from areas spread out over the globe. The program has been greatly expanded in scope and lethality in the last few years. Both the CIA and the armed forces run the drone programs. Drone strikes are conducted in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and possibly other countries. The government response to drone strikes is always the same: all strikes are carefully considered, the targets represent a terrorist threat to the U.S, subjects are precisely targeted, and collateral damage is always limited. Why is there no outcry about killing men, women and children based on a suspicion that someone is a terrorist? In a democracy, a program like this with no congressional authorization should not go unchallenged. Where are the checks and balances?

Civil rights/privacy suffered another lethal blow on New Year’s Eve 2011. The president signed the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, which included provisions that allowed the armed forces to perform civilian law enforcement, to selectively suspend due process and habeas corpus as well as other rights guaranteed by the 5th and 6th amendments of the Constitution for terror suspects arrested in the U.S. The law codifed the power of indefinite detention.

The act has given the executive branch extraordinary authoritarian and unaccountable power. Our reputation as a leader in moral authority and law abiding citizens cannot be taken seriously. Our constitutional rights are eroding.

Historian Howard Zinn has observed “Terrorism has replaced Communism as the rationale for the militarism of the country, for military adventures abroad, and for the suppression of civil liberties at home. It serves the same purpose, serving to create hysteria.”

Our freedoms and civil liberties have been hard won: The U.S. government should not abrogate the Constitution.

Robert F. Collins lives in Fort Collins.

Distributed by RINF Alternative News