Recently, there has been an increasing amount of talk centering on the possibility (or even probability) that President Bush and his administration are going to declare martial law and bring around a new fascist state. There has been a lot of predictable nodding and hand-wringing on one side, and just as equally predictable laughter and dismissal on the other. What we’re going to do here is take a serious look at the situation, what is, and then outline one simple path for what could be, and then explore what can be done about it.
First, some background
Here’s a round up of some of the relevant documents and actions of the last seven years or so, all in one place:
- The Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) Act of 2001: Sweeping legislation, which simply hands over to the President the power to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons. President Bush has used AUMF to justify everything from warrantless wiretapping to indefinite detainment and “special” interrogation techniques used on “enemy combatants”. And well he might. As written, it’s entirely up to him to decide what might be needed to pursue and take down the terrorists, whoever and wherever they are.
- The Patriot Act: One of the most controversial pieces of legislation to be passed in our time, debated back and forth all over the Internet, academic circles, and occasionally even by politicians. I went into a fairly extensive analysis of the worrisome aspects of this bill way back when, but for those who want the Cliff’s Notes version the problems with the damned thing are that it extended surveillance powers of the government in a way which was in direct conflict with civil liberties protected by the Bill of Rights, and it enabled the relabeling of a vast number of activities as potentially criminal and specifically “terrorist activities”, effectively pulling those so accused out of the normal legal system (and, apparently, outside the Geneva Conventions as well). While the principle matters a great deal, the practical application to anyone this one man deems a “terrorist” means that there are no assurances that those being surveilled and detained have actually done anything wrong. That should be of immediate concern to everyone.
- Warrantless Wiretapping: Justified by President Bush under the AUMF act and discussed in the previous link, as well as here and here. Where are we with that situation now? Well, in August, Congress went ahead and said they didn’t see a problem with President Bush’s policy, and in fact tried to make things a little more comfortable for him, though with the caveat that the provision would expire in six months. They’re now looking at new legislation which will address wiretapping more permanently. The bill proposed by President Bush’s administration would continue the broad powers of surveillance, while also granting immunity to all telecommunications companies which have previously handed over information on their clients to the government. If this legislation is passed, we will probably never know the breadth and depth of the warrantless surveillance which has been carried out, but that’s OK, since it’s all legal now, anyway.
- The Homeland Security Act of 2002: This bill created the Department of Homeland Security (which has since absorbed the Immigration and Natural Services agency, among many others), the Homeland Security Advisory system (adjustment of which has been questioned even by it’s former director), and contained the peculiar “Eli Lilly Rider” which sent suits against the vaccine manufacturer off into a “special court”.
- The Military Commissions Act of 2006: This bill confirmed that those declared “enemy combatants” under the powers granted by AUMF and The Patriot Act could be held indefinitely, allows “coerced” evidence to be submitted if and when they are tried, and establishes a “special court” (military commission) which operates under different rules than other criminal courts. Thus far, only about fifteen of the original 700+ have seen a trial.
- E.O.: Blocking Property of Certain Persons Who Threaten Stabilization Efforts in Iraq: Executive orders are so fun. They don’t have the hassle of having to be approved by Congress, and they often just pass under the radar. What this one does is say that the United States can freeze the assets of any person which is determined (by the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense) to be or possibly be doing anything or helping anyone who might be doing anything to undermine stability in Iraq. It also makes the point that folks being penalized under this E.O. shall not be notified before having their assets frozen.
- E.O.: Blocking Property of Persons Undermining the Sovereignty of Lebanon or Its Democratic Processes and Institutions: This one is a lot like the one above, except that this one specifically extends its powers to cover the family and associates of anyone already taken down by the order.
- E.O.: Blocking Property and Prohibiting Certain Transactions Related to Burma: Um, yeah. Just like above, but Burma this time.
- The National Counterterrorism Center: Established by E.O. 13354, the center is designed to amalgamate all terrorism-related data in one place and make recommendations to the administration on how to address it. Among other activities, the NCC has accumulated a list of over 300,000 names which it considers terrorists or potential terrorists, and provides this list to the Transportation Security Administration for “no-fly” lists and and other agencies.
- Free Speech Zones: The places you get to protest now. Such segregation of protesters has been used in the past, but never to the extent it has today, and the justifications given for its use are often ludicrous.
- Pending Stuff: Other items of note coming down the line include: The Iran Counter-Proliferation Act of 2007 (which, among other things requires the President to determine whether the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) should be designated as a foreign terrorist organization); Halliburton presumably continuing to build massive detention centers for someone or other out in the midwest; H.R. 1995, currently still sitting in a Senate committee, which is at least capable of setting up McCarthy-esque hearings to ferret out “homegrown terrorists” in our midst; The National Applications Office, a program which enables the use of spy satellite information about American citizens to track us within our own borders, ostensibly still held up by Congressional concerns (though, as it was not instituted by Congress in the first place, there appears to be no guarantee of that).
- There may well be more, but this is at least what is lying on the surface.
So Why Are We Not All In Detention Centers?
Given all the legislation just listed, plus certain policies** put in place (and never revoked) by Presidents Kennedy through Reagan, one would think dissenters would already be rounded up and carted off to federal detention centers where “terrorists” could be properly dealt with. And yet I am still here, rambling on about what I disapprove of in this administration, and so are you. How can this be?
There are only two reasonable possibilities. Either: A) Our government has no interest in asserting increasing levels of power over its constituents, or B) Our government realizes that, for all the “legal” protections put in place, it cannot pull off a massive power grab in one fell swoop. The former would be unprecedented, historically, and also contradictory to the experiences of those who have been associated with recent administrations (which does not make it impossible). If it’s the latter, however…
How Will They Create A More Imperfect Union?
The single most common response I hear when I begin listing all the unconstitutional and threatening new policies implemented in the last six years is “Name one way in which this has affected you“. Yes, though these laws are hanging over our heads we are all still here to gripe about it if we so choose. What must be considered, however, is that with many of our government’s new powers you wouldn’t know if you were being affected because it is written into all new surveillance policies that they don’t have to tell you. Which is not a problem if you are doing nothing wrong, right? Perhaps, but it also sets in place a system wherein you may well never have any evidence that any of this directly affected you until there is nothing at all you can do about it. What is core to this issue is not whether it is going to happen, but rather the very fact that it legally could.
If this administration wanted to bypass the whole democracy thing and be able to herd the cats more effectively (even for “good” reasons like a looming economic crisis requiring drastic measures to avert, or because they had intelligence about a genuine internal terrorist threat), how would they do it? We are the strongest democracy in the world. This is what we are taught from the time we are children, right along with how we need to cheer at pep rallies just because it’s “our” school. We’re a democracry, all right, after a fashion, and we have done all right, more or less, over the years. But that does not make us invulnerable to corruption from within, as the Founding Fathers well knew when they included the Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights and Article 2, Section 4 in the Constitution. It couldn’t happen here. Well, there’s no particular reason it couldn’t. These lines of thought are the greatest allies of any administration wishing to seize power in the United States. All that is required from here is to slowly assert more control in the name of freedom and democracy. At first, you have some rounding up of illegal (or possibly legal) immigrants to be interred in those Haliburton centers. Then you have the people helping them. Next, you can include some “cyber-terrorists” who have been seizing government information or inciting anti-American sentiments, folks who have donated to blacklisted Islamic charities, and “violent radicals” who keep calling the acts of this administration “unconstitutional“…if you work in small batches, giving seemingly legitimate reasons for the arrests and touting them as triumphs in the War on Terror, most folks will not put two and two together to tally up how many people are going down. As long as you keep the pace slow and steady, you can avoid the tripwires that set off the folks with rifles stashed in their closets.
Still, it’s an unassailable fact that there are more citizens than government employees, and they simply do not have the means to arrest everyone. To actually engage a complete lockdown on the freedoms we take for granted, a crisis is required. It would have to be a devestating one, given how many people have predicted it over the last few years. Something that would bypass all logic and cut right to our emotional centers. Plus which, it needs to efficiently demonstrate that anyone within our own borders could be a terrorist. Unfortunately, such a thing becomes more likely as the government asserts more control, due to a slowly building unease and agitation as more people find the government pushing past their limits of what is “reasonable”. If, eventually, an agitated group within our borders decides violent action is required in order to “wake up” the rest of America, the government would have the blessings of most citizens in instituting martial law. Imagine the worst, something like the targeting of a school or multiple schools. We would all gratefully submit to curfews, street patrols, and just about anything else to make it stop. From there, everyone is a suspect. From there, even massive sacrifices of our freedoms seem like small change in the effort to keep our children safe. Anyone dissenting will be seen as willing to simply hand over our children to the terrorists, and the terrorists will be everyone you see.
The Buck Stops Here
Clearly, the above scenario is a nightmarish “what if”, and it would require some significant events for us to get there. But even lesser, milder scenarios are unacceptable, and unfortunately we are seeing some of them happen right now. In the current climate of fear we are ignoring the rights of our citizens. Legal immigrants are dying in jail, and their cases are not being investigated. We are willing to be watched and recorded in case someone is doing something bad, and long ago dismissed with silly notions such as “innocent until proven guilty”. Our first priority should be getting the legislation which makes it possible reversed, but that is simply not going to happen if all we are willing to do as citizens is sit around and bitch.
This bill, for example, seeks to challenge the direction this administration has taken. While it does not address all of the items in the list above, it does tackle the Military Commissions Act and warrantless wiretapping, so it’s a damned good start. Take a moment and write to your House Representative and encourage them to support H.R. 3835. Write open letters to both your House and Senate representatives, telling them that you expect action immediately to roll back the legislation which has undermined the checks and balances of our government. Remind them that we the people instituted a massive turnover in the last election because we expected change, and that if we don’t see it, we can and will vote them right back out again. Protests do not seem to capture the attention of the government, anymore, but they are still worth attending for the purpose of attracting the attention of more citizens, who may not realize the legal position we are now in. We must keep getting the information out there until enough people are writing and calling and showing up that our representatives cannot ignore us.
And most importantly, we must not allow ourselves to be afraid. We cannot afford to look at our neighbors and fellow travelers and wonder if they are planning to kill us. We must not be afraid to speak our beliefs and our ideas our in public, on the internet, or in company where we are not sure of the response. We cannot despair and say to ourselves that there is nothing we can do. We must all do exactly what we believe would bring about positive change if everyone else did it too, in the hopes that they will. This is our country, and the government is made up of our employees, and if we do not step up and take responsibility for change, no one will.
**Please note: this site is not, by any stretch of the imagination, an unbiased site, and I find their analysis rather alarmist. However, it works as a short reference list to various Executive Orders, which can then easily be plugged into Google to search for the original documents. I looked for a non-biased site which listed the Executive Orders in question (those which handed organizational power in times of emergency over to FEMA), but was unable to find one. Please contact me if you know of a reasonable replacement.