by Jacob G. Hornberger
As most everyone knows, after President Obama’s reelection, most liberals went silent with respect to the defense of civil liberties and condemnation of the war on terrorism. Of course, there have been a few notable exceptions, such as Glenn Greenwald and the ACLU and others, but by and large liberals ended up doing what conservatives do when their man is in office. They sealed their lips.
But there is another factor that Americans now have to consider with respect to criticism of the president, the Pentagon, the CIA, or any other of the activities of the federal government in general.
That factor is the government’s publicly proclaimed power to assassinate Americans, along with the government’s lesser power to round up Americans, cart them away to concentration camps or military installations, incarcerate them indefinitely without trial, torture them, and even execute them as enemy combatants in the war on terrorism.
Sure, it’s true that so far the Pentagon and the CIA have exercised these extraordinary powers against only a few Americans, including the American they assassinated while he was riding in a car in Yemen at the start of the war on terrorism and, more recently, Anwar al-Awlaki and his teenage son.
There’s also the case of Jose Padilla, the American citizen who was removed from federal court jurisdiction and transferred into the custody of the military, which kept him incarcerated for some 3 years in a military dungeon, where the military employed techniques of psychological torture, including isolation and sensory deprivation, knowing that such torture would be likely to cause permanent mental damage.
But the number of victims is not the point. The point is that everyone knows that the federal government now possesses these extraordinary powers. If they can legally exercise such powers against a few Americans, they can employ them against all Americans. All they need is the right crisis or emergency to make it politically palatable.
Let’s not forget that the federal courts have upheld what they did to Padilla knowing that the holding would apply to all Americans. Let’s also not forget that the federal courts denied Awlaki’s father’s request to prevent them from assassinating his son.
The point is this: Everyone now knows that given the right crisis, U.S. officials now wield the omnipotent power to round up, detain, and torture large numbers of Americans and to even assassinate them, right here in the United States because, as U.S. officials have emphasized ever since 9/11, in the war on terrorism the entire world, including the United States, is the battlefield.
Who are the people likely to be targeted for such actions in an extreme crisis, such as a major war or some devastating terrorist attack?
The answer: The critics of government. They are the ones that government officials inevitably view as potential or real enemies — fifth columnists — people who are hurting the war effort — people who are demoralizing the troops — people who are encouraging the enemy with their criticisms of the government.
Would federal officials do such a thing?
Well, they did it at the outset of World War II, when they rounded up thousands of Americans of Japanese descent and carted them away to concentration camps.
And in World War I, they prosecuted, convicted, and punished people for simply questioning the draft or advocating “un-American” beliefs.
Combine those powers with the post-9/11 powers to assassinate Americans or to round them up, take them to concentration camps, detain them for life, torture them, or execute them as enemy combatants.
How can Americans not consider such things today even though the government is so far employing such powers against only a small number of Americans?
After all, the FBI was compiling secret lists of potential American enemy sympathizers long before America entered World War II. During the Cold War, they kept lists of suspected communists and did their best to destroy those Americans. Most everyone knows that the government today has compiled a secret list of people to be assassinated.
Thus, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that speaking out against the military’s and the CIA’s conduct today — or indeed the conduct of any federal agency — could well subject the critic to severe retribution in the midst of some future crisis or emergency.
Consider the military dictatorship in Egypt, which has long been a favorite of both the Pentagon and the CIA. Ironically, that dictatorship has long possessed the same omnipotent powers over the Egyptian people that the U.S. government now possesses over the American people.
Egypt’s military dictatorship has justified such powers with the same rationale that the U.S. regime has justified its post-9/11 powers: the war on terrorism.
Who have been the ones targeted by the Egyptian military dictatorship? Critics of the regime, which the regime has labeled terrorists and enemies of the state. They’re the ones who have been rounded up for some 30 years, incarcerated without trial, tortured, and even executed. That’s why the one of the principal demands of the Egyptian protestors has been the relinquishment of such powers, a demand that the dictatorship steadfastly refuses to grant.
Through it all, the U.S. government has continued to subsidize Egypt’s dictatorship with billions of dollars in foreign aid, knowing full well how it was employing its omnipotent “emergency” powers against the Egyptian people. In fact, don’t forget that the CIA even chose the torture branch of Egypt’s military dictatorship to torture the suspected terrorist that the CIA kidnapped in Italy and renditioned to Egypt.
Or recall the Pinochet military dictatorship in Chile, which the Pentagon and the CIA and other U.S. officials enthusiastically supported. After assuming office in the midst of an “emergency,” it proceeded to round up thousands of “enemy sympathizers,” detained them without trial, tortured them, and executed them, all without a peep of protest by U.S. officials. Indeed, the CIA even participated in the assassination of a young American journalist, Charles Horman, in the midst of the Chilean “emergency.”
Libertarians have long been ardent defenders of civil liberties and continue to be. Undoubtedly, we would be among those targeted in a major crisis or emergency. Obviously that possibility has not dissuaded us from continuing to speak out, in the hopes that we can change the direction of the country and restore a constitutionally limited republic to our land before it’s too late.
Conservatives have always been a disaster when it comes to civil liberties. Therefore, it’s no surprise at all that they have been fully supportive of President Bush’s and President Obama’s assumption of the powers of indefinite detention, torture, and assassination.
Liberals, however, have traditionally been supportive of civil liberties. That tradition, however, came to a screeching halt with Obama’s election. One reason obviously was a warped sense of political loyalty. But who can say that the federal government’s post-9/11 powers to round up, detain without trial, torture, execute, and assassinate haven’t played a role in the silence as well?
Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of the Future of Freedom Foundation.
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