On July 28, 2010 there appeared an important and tragic story on CNN.com. Its title is "U.S. Army Veteran in Colombia Feels Like He is Caught in a No-Fly Trap." It is the story of a 29 year old U.S. citizen by the name of Raymond Earl Knaeble. Knaeble had been working in Kuwait since 2006 for ITT systems, inc. In 2008 he converted to Islam and set up a web site devoted to correcting misunderstandings about the religion among English speakers. He sought to demonstrate that Islam is a religion of peace.
Recently he flew from Kuwait to Bogota Colombia in order to join his fiancé. He then attempted to fly to the U.S. in order to take a physical exam prior to beginning a new job with ITT in Qatar. At that point he was barred from boarding the airplane. It has been all downhill from there. Knaeble’s job offer was withdrawn and he ended up stranded and penniless in Colombia. When he asked the authorities why this was happening to him no one would tell him. However, it is obvious that the FBI has placed his name on its notorious no-fly list. That is how he became the American equivalent of Kafka’s Josef K in the Trial.
This tragedy raises many questions about the present status of American justice system, the marching orders of our bureaucracies, particularly the FBI, and just what is the worth of being an American citizen in 2010? Ever since the attacks of 9/11 there has been a serious erosion of our standards of justice. Indeed, there seems little doubt that the national government has taken it upon itself to selectively violate its own Constitution and laws. Thus, the government’s assertion that it can hold American citizens and residents indefinitely without showing cause has undermined habeas corpus.
The arbitrary assertion that it can listen in on lawyer-client discussions spells the death of that long standing and necessary privilege. And the practice of kidnapping and torture of individuals worldwide has placed the United States in the position of being a great power running of a world-wide terrorist operation. Allegedly, this last practice has been suspended.
It is through the practice of such policies, among others, that the marching orders given by Congress and the Executive to the government’s "law enforcement" and "intelligence" agencies have been transformed. This has been accomplished by an apparent nod of approval given to the latent lawlessness inherent in all such bureaucracies. This might sound confusing, but the truth is that such agencies have two sets of rules that are not perfectly aligned. One set is the laws of the land that the bureaucrats and agents are suppose to enforce and uphold. These laws are to apply to the actions of the agencies just like they apply to the behaviors of ordinary citizens. The other set is the package of internal customary rules of operation that are part of the culture of the bureaucracies themselves.
These are shaped by years of practice and may well allow or even encourage the cutting of legal corners in the order to perform the agencies’ missions in the most "effective" manner. There is a standing tension between the two sets of rules but, under normal conditions, the rule of law should prevail. When it does not, one gets investigation and scandal. People often lose their jobs as a result. However, after 9/11, it seems that there was a purposeful turning of a blind eye when it came to the actions of agencies such as the FBI and CIA. All of a sudden the government as a whole seem to adopt an unspoken position that the law should get out of the way of the mission. The Bush Justice Department began this corrupting practice and the Obama administration has taken up the precedent.
As a consequence we can seriously ask the question, what is the worth of US citizenship under present conditions? Well, for Raymond Earl Knaeble, the answer is it is worth little or nothing. In fact he would be much better off being the citizen of some other country. And he is not alone, for U.S. citizens with close ties to the Muslim world are all at risk. Arab Americans and Muslim Americans are now having to fight continuously for their basic rights as Americans.
These members of our communities, as well as their supporters, are constantly plagued by bigots, hostile special interests, and what appears to be lawless bureaucrats working in agencies ranging from local sheriffs offices to the Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, to FBI, and even to the State Department. Things have gotten so bad that the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has issued a travelers alert on their web site warning Muslim Americans of the risk of "forced exile" when traveling overseas. And here is another, personal warning– those who travel to Israel-Palestine and end up harassed by Israeli soldiers while visiting the Occupied Territories should know that they will find little or no sympathy, much less assistance, from U.S. counselor officials.
According to the Social Contract theory of government put forth by John Locke (1632-1704), the government is created to guarantee the rights of the citizens. The citizens, in turn, are obligated to support their government by, among other things, the payment of taxes and their loyalty, as long as those guarantees are maintained. That is why Locke describes the relationship between citizens and their government as a contract. Since Locke’s day citizens’ rights have been extended beyond life, liberty and property to include, in the case of the U.S., all those rights and privileges enumerated in the Constitution.
This list of rights is among the dwindling American attributes still admired worldwide. Finally, Locke is pretty explicit about what can happen if the government, by acting in violation of its own laws and constitution, breaks the contract. It seems to me that since 9/11, at least parts of the U.S. government have been operating on or beyond the line of lawlessness.
Lets finish up with the same example we began with, that of Mr. Knaeble. He is not someone who has inadvertently fallen through the cracks. He is not like the main character in the story "A Man Without a Country" who cursed the United States and obviously wished the nation ill. Not at all. He is a victim of the lawless practices of a U.S. police agency. In order to perform the mission of "fending off all possible threats to the U.S." Raymon Knaeble, and many more like him, have been sacrificed.
This is the only conclusion that one can draw because the FBI appears to be under no obligation, and thus unwilling, to provide any evidence, any cause, for acting the way it does. We are just asked to trust the bureaucrats when they claim to know something that we do not, and therefore accept that they can ruin this man’s life with impunity. Obviously, someone has told the FBI that it can behave like the KGB.
That is where we stand and it is a serious problem for all of us. Democratic governments should not function as enemies of their own laws. But they do so when they run so scared that the law is sacrificed to an impossible search for perfect security. Tip O’Neil, the famous and humorous Speaker of the House of Representatives (1977 to 1987) use to walk around with small copy of the Constitution in his pocket. He was serious about that document. One wonders how many of his successors have even read the document. Tip O’Neil is dead now. Let’s hope he did not take the Constitution with him to the grave.
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