Wednesday, September 29, 2010

What Is Power For?

Good morning.

This week, Obama visited my fair state and yesterday held a big rally in Madison, Wisconsin, where he told a crowd: "Stick with me, you can't lose heart."

While I may not have lost heart, there are things going on that are very disconcerting, sir.

We apparently live in a time when the FBI is still targeting anti-war groups in "terrorism" investigations, a time-honored tactic of intimidation at the local level. And while that sort of thing is going on, I feel even more uncomfortable -- if that is even possible -- with your bold new assertion of executive authority: the power to order American citizens killed.

This is no exaggeration.

The citizen goes by the name Anwar al-Aulaqi (there are alternative spellings) and lives as an expatriate in Yemen. He is a muslim cleric who is said to have become radicalized and preaches against the United States. The President of the United States says that he is in fact a terrorist, which may be true. I don't know. There has been no trial, no evidence, no opportunity for the accused to defend himself.

Without a trial or any process whatsoever, my President has ordered the CIA to assassinate this person. This is not exactly new in American history, but I don't know of a time when it has been so done so brazenly: the President assumes, apparently correctly, that he has a blank check to kill anyone, including American citizens, if he calls them a "terrorist." Off with his head!

Yemen is not a war zone, even in our open-ended war against "terrorism." This might be a bad guy, but there has been no orderly process here. We just have a President pointing his finger and going "click." The citizen's father and the ACLU filed a lawsuit, naturally. Now the Administration has requested that the lawsuit simply be dismissed. Stonewalling, simply. You used the "state secrets" defense, Mr. President.

It's an open-ended, informal war, and you are willing to use war powers -- expanding them even more than George W. Bush did -- anywhere on the globe and claim a blank check to have people killed, including American citizens.

And I see the FBI raiding homes and offices of longtime peace activists, critics of war, critics of U.S. militarism and empire.

And earlier this month, the National Lawyers Guild issued a chilling report on unlawful police activity and suppression of free speech by demonstrators in the U.S. From the report:

Demonstrations at National Special Security Events1 and other mass assemblies of the last decade have met with widespread police actions -- many of them in violation of the law -- aimed at stopping dissent in its tracks. Offensive, rather than defensive, measures such as use of less-lethal munitions on passive crowds, pre-event raids of homes and meeting spaces of organizers, confiscation of journalists' cameras, video equipment and recorded images, unlawful containment of crowds and mass arrests without probable cause typify modern policing of protesters. Such aggressive actions violate fundamental free speech rights and undermine the concept of a democratic society.

Police preparation for mass assemblies routinely involves infiltration and spying on activist groups, sometimes years in advance, including the use of agents provocateurs. Time and time again, millions of dollars have been obtained by police departments for personnel and equipment at large events justified by confidential informant testimony that large numbers of "anarchists" are planning to attend and engage in violence. Closer examination of the facts often reveals the falsity of such allegations: numerous police informants, many with criminal backgrounds, admit when later questioned that activist groups they infiltrated never planned any violent activities. Indeed, millions more have been spent paying damages to the demonstrators victimized by these tactics.

New anti-terrorism legislation and prosecution practices have resulted in individuals being charged with conspiracy to riot merely by virtue of having helped organize a protest at which other individuals unknown to them were arrested. As evidence of conspiracy to riot, the government cites such First Amendment protected activities as attending meetings, writing about protests, organizing protests, and engaging in rhetorical or politically charged speech.

Faulty intelligence gathering and grossly attenuated criminal charges are accompanied by additional strategies to quell dissent. Asserting the need to defend against terrorism and protect national security, the government targets leaders of social and political movements, employs grand juries to search for evidence of political affiliation, stigmatizes groups of activists, and uses the mass media to denigrate demonstrators, reinforce negative stereotypes or publicize high-profile arrests on charges which are frequently later dropped for lack of evidence.

It's not just our country, either. In Greece, for instance, where people have taken to the streets in impressive numbers because of "austerity measures" that punish vulnerable people for a crisis invented by bankers (sound familiar?), anti-terrorism laws are reportedly being expanded for use against unions.

It might be a while before we see that here, since our unions have grown so docile.

No, Mr. President, I have not lost heart. We've seen this stuff before and no doubt it will continue. It is part of a trend much longer than your political career, and longer than your lifetime and mine put together. The technology improves but the use of power remains the same.

[Photo: from a protest in Brussels]


Petteri Sulonen said...

The Greek situation is truly heartbreaking.

What makes it worse is "Not my fault," which, I hear, is something of a feature in Greek culture. The system stinks, but the Greek system stinks particularly badly, from top to bottom. I really, truly hope they manage to patch some of the worst holes in their polity, because otherwise it's well on its way to becoming another Egypt -- a country where the best people can hope for is to get out. That would be truly tragic.

rosswolfe said...

I don't know if the Left should be so quick to declare solidarity with these activists. I wrote a Leftist critique of the protests surrounding the recent FBI raids.

Algernon said...

I'm happy to go read your blog post on this, Ross, but I hope you also see the larger issue that is being addressed in this post.