Americans Need to Look in the Mirror
By Jonathan Turley; Reprinted from the Washington Post, Original Article.
Americans often proclaim our nation as a symbol of freedom to the world while dismissing (other) nations as categorically unfree. Yet, objectively, we may be only half right. Those countries do lack basic individual rights such as due process, placing them outside any reasonable definition of "free," but the United States now has much more in common with such regimes than anyone may like to admit.|
These countries also have constitutions that purport to guarantee freedoms and rights. But their governments have broad discretion in denying those rights and few real avenues for challenges by citizens - precisely the problem with the new laws in this country.
The list of powers acquired by the U.S. government since 9/11 puts us in rather troubling company.
Under the law signed last month, terrorism suspects are to be held by the military; the president also has the authority to indefinitely detain citizens accused of terrorism.
While the administration claims that this provision only codified existing law, experts widely contest this view, and the administration has opposed efforts to challenge such authority in federal courts. The government continues to claim the right to strip citizens of legal protections based on its sole discretion.
The president now decides whether a person will receive a trial in the federal courts or in a military tribunal, a system that has been ridiculed around the world for lacking basic due process protections. Bush claimed this authority in 2001, and Obama has continued the practice.
The president may now order warrantless surveillance, including a new capability to force companies and organizations to turn over information on citizens’ finances, communications and associations. Bush acquired this sweeping power under the Patriot Act in 2001, and in 2011, Obama extended the power, including searches of everything from business documents to library records.
The government can use "national security letters" to demand, without probable cause, that organizations turn over information on citizens — and order them not to reveal the disclosure to the affected party.
This allows the government to claim secret legal arguments to support secret proceedings using secret evidence. In addition, some cases never make it to court at all. The federal courts routinely deny constitutional challenges to policies and programs under a narrow definition of standing to bring a case.|
The world clamored for prosecutions of those responsible for waterboarding terrorism suspects during the Bush administration, but the Obama administration said in 2009 that it would not allow CIA employees to be investigated or prosecuted for such actions. This gutted not just treaty obligations but the Nuremberg principles of international law.
When courts in countries such as Spain moved to investigate Bush officials for war crimes, the Obama administration reportedly (pressured) foreign officials not to allow such cases to proceed, despite the fact that the United States has long claimed the same authority with regard to alleged war criminals in other countries.
The government has increased its use of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which has expanded its secret warrants to include individuals deemed to be aiding or abetting hostile foreign governments or organizations. In 2011, Obama renewed these powers, including allowing secret searches of individuals who are not part of an identifiable terrorist group. The administration has asserted the right to ignore congressional limits on such surveillance.
Like the Bush administration, the Obama administration has successfully pushed for immunity for companies that assist in warrantless surveillance of citizens, blocking the ability of citizens to challenge the violation of privacy.
The Obama administration says it is not continuing the abuses of this practice under Bush, but it insists on the unfettered right to order such transfers - including the possible transfer of U.S. citizens.|
These new laws have come with an infusion of money into an expanded security system on the state and federal levels, including more public surveillance cameras, tens of thousands of security personnel and a massive expansion of a terrorist-chasing bureaucracy.
Some politicians shrug and say these increased powers are merely a response to the times we live in. Thus, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) could declare in an interview last spring without objection that "free speech is a great idea, but we’re in a war." Of course, terrorism will never "surrender" and end this particular "war."
Other politicians rationalize that, while such powers may exist, it really comes down to how they are used. This is a common response by liberals who cannot bring themselves to denounce Obama as they did Bush. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), for instance, has insisted that Congress is not making any decision on indefinite detention: "That is a decision which we leave where it belongs - in the executive branch."
And in a signing statement with the defense authorization bill, Obama said he does not intend to use the latest power to indefinitely imprison citizens. Yet, he still accepted the power as a sort of regretful autocrat.
An authoritarian nation is defined not just by the use of authoritarian powers, but by the ability to use them.
If a president can take away your freedom or your life on his own authority, all rights become little more than a discretionary grant subject to executive will.
The indefinite-detention provision in the defense authorization bill seemed to many civil libertarians like a betrayal by Obama. While the president had promised to veto the law over that provision, Levin, a sponsor of the bill, disclosed on the Senate floor that it was in fact the White House that approved the removal of any exception for citizens from indefinite detention.|
Dishonesty from politicians is nothing new for Americans. The real question is whether we are lying to ourselves when we call this country the land of the free.
Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro professor of public interest law at George Washington University.
Those who think the US values human rights should read the following:
Besides Guantanamo, Afghanistan and Iraq, HRC said the CIA runs scores of offshore secret prisons in over 66 countries worldwide for dissidents and alleged terrorists — in Egypt, Algeria, Jordan, Morocco, Syria, Libya, Tunisia, India, Pakistan, Russia, Uzbekistan, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Ethopia, Djibouti, Kenya, Poland, Romania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Thailand, Diego Garcia, and elsewhere.
Post-9/11, "the United States embarked on a process of reducing and removing various human rights and other protection mechanisms" through numerous laws and administrative acts including:
"One of the consequences of this policy was that many detainees were kept secretly and without access to the protection accorded to those in custody" under international and US laws.