by Randolph T. Holhut
December 15, 2011
FROM DEMOCRACY TO OLIGARCHY
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Osama bin Laden is dead, and al-Qaida has been decimated to the point that it is no longer a force militarily or politically.
Yet the so-called War on Terror started by President George W. Bush 10 years ago grinds on, and nearly three years of President Barack Obama at the helm has scarcely changed anything.
Case in point, a knot of ambiguous words that were tucked away into the National Defense Authorization Act in the U.S. Senate that calls for expanding military authority into the domestic realm.
The Senate bill, passed on a 93-7 vote last week, would in effect, revoke an 1878 law known as the Posse Comitatus Act, which banned the Army from domestic law enforcement.
Further, it would authorize U.S. military forces to arrest and detain indefinitely "covered persons," and do so without a trial.
Who would be considered a covered person? The bill defines it as anyone who "substantially supported al-Qaida, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces."
That sentence is loosely worded enough that civil libertarians are worried that the U.S. military might be used to silence any American opposing future wars against alleged "terrorists" or "terrorist states."
And by throwing in the phrase "associated forces," it would expand the scope of the original Authorization of the Use of Military Force Act (AUMF) that was rushed into law within days of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.
While the AUMF limited military action to "those nations, organizations, or persons he [the President] determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons," this new bill declares open season on anyone, anywhere that our government wishes to silence.
This is especially so given the current legal ambiguity in the recent revision of the Patriot Act that expands "material support for terrorism" to include humanitarian aid or advocacy speech, with no need to prove that an accused person intended to support any kind of terrorist activity.
You would expect the American Civil Liberties Union to call this bill "an historic threat to American citizens." But right behind the ACLU was the directors of the FBI and CIA, the National Intelligence Director and the Secretary of Defense. They all agreed that this bill is not only a threat to the Constitutional rights of Americans, but also a threat to our nation's security.
President Obama has said he wants to veto this bill, not because he's against detaining Americans citizens, but because he opposes - in the words of presidential spokesman Jay Carney - "any bill that challenges or constrains the president's critical authorities to collect intelligence, incapacitate dangerous terrorists and protect the nation."
As we saw in September, when Obama secretly authorized the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen of Yemeni descent living in exile in Yemen, the president is very comfortable waging secret wars and targeting American citizens anywhere in the world where his Administration believes U.S. interests are threatened.
Even though al-Awlaki was a U.S. citizen with full Constitutional protections, he was ordered killed without due process and without being charged with a crime because of alleged links to al-Qaida.
This is what a decade of fear-mongering has done to our nation. It has left us with a degraded democracy where our elected leaders are debating the finer points of whether our government has the power to hold American civilians indefinItely in military custody.
This is how our country entered into a pre-emptive war based on lies in Iraq, in violation of Nuremberg Principles and international law.
This is how our country has detained and tortured terrorism suspects in violation of the Geneva Conventions and the Convention against Torture.
This is how our country has allowed suspects to be detained without a trial or any semblance of due process in violation of legal norms that stretch back to the Magna Carta.
Having done all this, what would stop the people currently in power from seizing "emergency powers" that would render constitutional protections null and void in the name of "fighting terrorism."
The supine, spineless politicians in Washington are more than willing to exploit fear for political gain, especially as an election year approaches.
It's our job as citizens not to let them.
Chief of AR Correspondents Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.