Sunday, May 19, 2013

Is The U.S. Becoming A Police State?

Human Freedoms

Forgive the provacative title; I will address that issue in a minute. First, consider this film clip taken from the American-made movie, Good Night, Good Luck (2005), it forms part of the journalistic life of Edward R. Murrow, one of America’s most known and respected journalists. Edward R. Murrow is played here by David Strathairn

It is based on one of the most famous broadcasts in defense of freedom in modern history. On March 9, 1954, Edward R. Murrow, produced a half-hour See It Now special entitled “A Report on Senator Joseph McCarthy.” The show culminates in the final video clip on the values of dissent in a democracy. It is a direct response to the hysteria of McCarthyism, the Red Scare, and the fear of Communism of the 1950s.

Such sentiments and fears ring true today, with the fear of terrorism resulting in a climate of fear and silencing dissent. It might be far worse today than it was in the 1950s, under McCarthyism [1950-1956], since it has resisted all forms of reason and rational thought, and has lasted since the terrible events of September 2001—more than 11 years ago.

As Mr. Murrow rightly pointed out: “Dissent is not Disloyalty.” Edward R. Murrow’s defense of liberty is described below:
We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men— not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular.
This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy’s methods to keep silent, or for those who approve. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom, wherever it continues to exist in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.
The actions of the junior Senator from Wisconsin have caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad, and given considerable comfort to our enemies. And whose fault is that? Not really his. He didn’t create this situation of fear; he merely exploited it—and rather successfully. Cassius was right. “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”
Good night, and good luck.
Similar things are taking place today; cynical men and women, not only in the U.S., but in Canada Britain, France and Israel are exploiting the situation. Consider this: Hendrik Hertzberg writes about the length that the U.S. will go to prevent terrorist attacks—yet ignore the deaths from gun violence—in an article (“Preventive Measures”) published in The New Yorker: “In the United States since 9/11, Islamist terrorism has resulted in the deaths of thirty-seven people. During the same period, ten thousand times that many have been killed by guns wielded by their countrymen or themselves.” The only rational conclusion, then, is that American legislators are not really concerned about the value of human lives.

Then there is the recent announcement that the U.S. Justice Department, as CNN says, “secretly collected two months of telephone records for reporters and editors at The Associated Press,” the news agency reported.

The CNN article, by Matt Smith and Joe Johns, says:
The records included calls from several AP bureaus and the personal phone lines of several staffers, AP President Gary Pruitt wrote. Pruitt called the subpoenas a "massive and unprecedented intrusion" into its reporting.
"These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the newsgathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two-month period, provide a road map to AP's newsgathering operations and disclose information about AP's activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know," wrote Pruitt, the news agency's CEO.
The AP reported that the government has not said why it wanted the records. But it noted that U.S. officials have said they were probing how details of a foiled bomb plot that targeted a U.S.-bound aircraft leaked in May 2012. The news agency said records from five reporters and an editor who worked on a story about the plot were among those collected.
The subpoenas were disclosed to the news agency on Friday, Pruitt wrote. In all, federal agents collected records from more than 20 lines, including personal phones and AP phone numbers in New York; Hartford, Connecticut; and Washington, he wrote.
"We regard this action by the Department of Justice as a serious interference with AP's constitutional rights to gather and report the news," he told Holder. Pruitt demanded that the department return all records collected and destroy all copies.
The U.S. attorney's office in Washington responded that federal investigators seek phone records from news outlets only after making "every reasonable effort to obtain information through alternative means." It did not disclose the subject of the probe.
"We must notify the media organization in advance unless doing so would pose a substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation," it said. "Because we value the freedom of the press, we are always careful and deliberative in seeking to strike the right balance between the public interest in the free flow of information and the public interest in the fair and effective administration of our criminal laws."
This is shameful and a weak defense of an action that explicitly goes against the U.S. Constitution. In addition, something rings false about the statement from the Justice Department in defense of an intrusive action; after all they are infringing on an important constitutional right, namely, freedom of the press.

So, what is really behind all this surveillance, then? The advocates of a surveillance society will argue that such is necessary and proves the effectiveness of the American’s ability to stop terrorist attacks; yet, we can never really know if that is indeed the case, since we are not privy to the actions and thinking of the state security organizations. They, after all, work under a cloak of secrecy.

There’s more disturbing news, this time against the constitutionally protected right to free assembly. An article, by Jed Morey, in the Long Island Press, says the military has been granted legal authority to unilaterally act against civil-rights movements and protests, which are constitutionally protected. This comes after a previous law, NDAA 2012,  granted the executive branch to indefinitely detain U.S. citizens without due process.

In response to this draconian measure, the article says, “Last year, Bruce Afran and another civil liberties attorney Carl Mayer filed a lawsuit against the Obama Administration on behalf of a group of journalists and activists lead by former New York Times journalist Chris Hedges.”.

Morey writes about the latest law:
Bruce Afran, a civil liberties attorney and constitutional law professor at Rutgers University, calls the rule, “a wanton power grab by the military,” and says, “It’s quite shocking actually because it violates the long-standing presumption that the military is under civilian control.”
[…] 
Another of the plaintiffs in the Hedges suit is Alexa O’Brien, a journalist and organizer who joined the lawsuit after she discovered a Wikileaks cable showing government officials attempting to link her efforts to terrorist activities. For activists such as O’Brien, the new DoD regulatory change is frightening because it creates, “an environment of fear when people cannot associate with one another.” Like Afran and Freedman, she too calls the move, “another grab for power under the rubric of the war on terror, to the detriment of citizens.”
[…]  
Despite protestations from figures such as Afran and O’Brien and past admonitions from groups like the ACLU, for the first time in our history the military has granted itself authority to quell a civil disturbance. Changing this rule now requires congressional or judicial intervention.
“This is where journalism comes in,” says Freedman. “Calling attention to an unauthorized power grab in the hope that it embarrasses the administration.” Afran is considering amending his NDAA complaint currently in front of the court to include this regulatory change.
I think, or at least I hope with unbridled optimism, that the U.S. Supreme Court will rule eventually against these laws, considering them unconstitutional. Even so, such anti-constitutional actions— and I have only enumerated a few that have taken place over the last few years—lend credence to the charge that the U.S. is technically close to being a police state, or at least becoming more authoritarian, more tyrannical, whose chief purpose evidence shows is serving the purpose and interests of Corporate America— as hard as this idea is for many Americans to consider, let alone believe. 

This current state of affairs, precipitated by fear and greed, has induced an uncontrolled chemical reaction, which is neither good for democracy nor for humanity in general. That civil liberties— starting immediately after 9/11 under the Bush Administration and continuing under the Obama Administration—have been impoverished is undeniably true. Let’s hope that such reactions stop soon.

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A shorter version of this article was originally published at Perry J. Greenbaum on October 19, 2010.