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“Countering” Terror By Eroding Justice


Everyone needs to read Glenn Greenwald’s analysis of the shift from denying basic human rights to non-US terror suspects under Bush/Cheney, to denying such rights to American citizens under Obama/Biden.

A bipartisan group from Congress sponsors legislation to strip Americans of their citizenship based on Terrorism accusations. Barack Obama claims the right to assassinate Americans far from any battlefield and with no due process of any kind. The Obama administration begins covertly abandoning long-standing Miranda protections for American suspects by vastly expanding what had long been a very narrow “public safety” exception, and now Eric Holder explicitly advocates legislation to codify that erosion. John McCain and Joe Lieberman introduce legislation to bar all Terrorism suspects, including Americans arrested on U.S. soil, from being tried in civilian courts, and former Bush officials Bill Burck and Dana Perino — while noting (correctly) that Holder’s Miranda proposal constitutes a concession to the right-wing claim that Miranda is too restrictive — today demand that U.S. citizens accused of Terrorism and arrested on U.S. soil be treated as enemy combatants and thus denied even the most basic legal protections (including the right to be charged and have access to a lawyer).

I tend to think we should care just as much about our government’s treatment of non-citizens as we do of citizens, but Greenwald argues that this new trend is particularly disturbing in political terms:

There is, of course, no moral difference between subjecting citizens and non-citizens to abusive or tyrannical treatment. But as a practical matter, the dangers intensify when the denial of rights is aimed at a government’s own population. The ultimate check on any government is its own citizenry; vesting political leaders with oppressive domestic authority uniquely empowers them to avoid accountability and deter dissent.

He declines however to suggest what ought to be done to change this trend – in other words, is it too late for dissent to make a difference? I welcome readers’ ideas. I think many voters thought they’d already taken the appropriate step by electing a progressive, pro-civil liberties leader. With the writing on the wall, what now?

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  • I think many voters thought they’d already taken the appropriate step by electing a progressive, pro-civil liberties leader.

    When was this?

  • scott

    The answer to Charli’s question isn’t hard, but it’s one that liberals don’t like much. When conservatives don’t get what they want within the GOP, they threaten to withhold their votes, their money, their support, and the party leaders come running, asking them if they want fries with their pet demands. We roll over, complaining but continuing to vote for and give money to a bunch of Washington careerist pols who turn their backs on us once they get what they want. Don’t support people who don’t support you is one of the very few lessons that liberals could stand to learn from conservatives.

    • witless chum

      Except, we kinda did this in 2000 and it didn’t even register on the mainstream radar.

      The 2000 election is the gift that kept on not giving. A small portion of left defected from the Democrats and got eight years of Bushisaster as a result, and didn’t even get the benefit of making the people who run the Democratic Party afraid of us.

      • DocAmazing

        There are bunches of us that still get shit from liberals for not being sufficiently vocal in our support of Democrats (whether those Dems are selling us out or not). There are bunches of us who have been told that the solution to all problems is “more and better Dems”. There are bunches of us that have been working both inside and outside the Democratic Party and have gotten the freeze-out.

        It’s way past time for liberals to recognize that supporting Dems is nowhere near enough. The party needs a serious spanking. You may find Jane Hamsher worrisome or misguided, but really, who’s the bigger threat, with his hands on the levers of power: Grover Norquist or Rahm Emmanuel?

      • Ed

        When conservatives withdraw their support, they go a lot farther than a few lefties voting for an independent candidate (not that Nader supporters deserve all the blame they get from establishment liberals for Bush’s election, or that a Gore Administration would have led us to the land of milk and honey).

      • BillCinSD

        One thing that may do a little good is to quit repeating the stupid Republican framing of issues. So to reiterate

        The Republicans stole the 2000 election full stop.

  • Incontinentia Buttocks

    I think many voters thought they’d already taken the appropriate step by electing a progressive, pro-civil liberties leader. With the writing on the wall, what now?

    Excellent question! But I hope that, at the very least, we’ve finally learned the lesson that merely electing a Democrat does not mean that one has elected a progressive or pro-civil liberties leader.

    And just to be clear: I voted for and supported Barack Obama because he was clearly the lesser evil. I’d do so again faced with the same awful choices we had in November 2008. But I am not much surprised that Obama has continued and even worsened these policies of the Bush-Cheney administration. The USA PATRIOT Act was passed nearly unanimously by the Senate. As late as 2006, a large bipartisan majority of Senators voted for the Military Commissions Act. The assault on our civil liberties was a bipartisan affair long before 9/11, as the War on (Certain Classes of People Who Use) Drugs, the continuing erosion of the 4th amendment, and enthusiastic support for “Three Strikes” laws during the Clinton years suggest. “Elect more and better Democrats” is clearly not a solution to this problem. It will be necessary to build some sort of independent movement to restore or civil liberties.

    And at the risk of pushing this thread back in an all-too-familiar direction, loud and clear opposition to the Elena Kagan nomination unless and until she clearly comes out on the right side of these issues is an important first step. At this point a narrow majority on the Supreme Court that includes Justice Stevens is our last line of defense. And we cannot afford to put someone on the Court who’ll create five-vote majorities in favor of approving these erosions of our rights.

    • Paul Campos

      Amen. And what slender evidence there is on this question is not encouraging.

    • Marc

      …thus provoking a filibuster threat, and a long drawn-out fight in the Senate, on an issue where our torture-loving public is on the other side.

      I’ll take “liberal does the right thing once confirmed” behind door #2, without the prior public drama, as having a much better chance of success in the world as it is, thank you. Even though I’d prefer the world where torture and the police state were not majority positions, where it wouldn’t even be controversial to assert that they are.

      • Incontinentia Buttocks

        Find me anyone who thinks that, e.g., Diane Wood wouldn’t get confirmed.

        The notion that someone like Kagan is the only sort of Justice who can be confirmed is simply false (though it might become closer to true in the future if the Democrats suffer predicted losses in the Senate).

        Indeed, the strategy of progressives’ bargaining with ourselves that you suggest has, over the course of several decades, led to the situation that Charli’s post concerns, i.e. both major parties supporting authoritarian abrogations of the Constitution.

        Having doubled down on the vague hope that people who are not obviously liberal will behave as liberals once in office and having repeatedly lost these bets, we need to stop this non-strategy ASAP.

      • Ed

        I’ll take “liberal does the right thing once confirmed” behind door #2, without the prior public drama, as having a much better chance of success in the world as it is, thank you.

        If you mean by “prior public drama” giving Kagan a proper grilling so we have a better idea of what she thinks about civil liberties, presidential power, and the national security state, I don’t think so. (I suppose you can call Kagan a liberal insofar as she would never be chosen by a Republican president).

  • I think it’s pretty hopeless, myself, very much like the war on drugs. There’s no institutional or political incentive to pull back on these things. No one remotely near power is worried about the functional threat of government power against them. So, really, what Republican really cares about a Democrat with expanded powers? Did they panic at the prospect of Bush’s power in Obama’s hand? Not really. Health care is more threatening than extra-judicial murder or torture. (Why not? What votes do they get for opposing torture?)

    What mass movement is there in support of a robust notion of civil liberties as relevant much less core to American values? It’s not clear that it’s even on the general publics radar. Throw in economic and political turmoil + ongoing war/terrorismmongering/etc. and really, what chance is there?

    • Marc

      Usually the opposition party acts as a brake on the party in power. We’ve on new turf when the opposition party is even more enthusiastic about unlimited executive power than the occupants are.

      • It’s bizarre!

        Of course, it’s all easily explicable when you put the right values for “unlimited executive power over whom“. Over insurance companies or banks or oil companies? No way! Over “citizens” who may not be really real Americans? Everyone should be on board with that project.

        Just look how sex, lying, flipflopping, lack of military service “scandals” all work for Republicans. If you are a Democrat, you should be drummed out of power anyway, so any whiff of scandal entails thunderous denunciations. If you are a Republican, that’s just fine.

        So why, again, should they brake the accumulation of power in the executive? The pleading of their moral sense? Their respect for American values?

  • Stag Party Palin

    What Bijan said. The War on Drugs is a perfect example of why someone should write a book called, “What’s the Matter with the Human Race?” There will always be corrupt and/or self-serving politicians, but the real problem is that there are so many stupid people. They have no clue what is in their own self-interest. And when that many people are clueless, there is nothing to drive a politician to act in the people’s true interest. This is a time to keep your head down.

    Brilliant Work on Stupidity

  • Oz Ozzie

    I’m confused from a distance. Isn’t civil liberties a core value for libertarians?

  • Most of the voters consider terrorists such as neonazis, skinheads, to be real americans so this will never apply to them. i think they will apply it to naturalized citizens or any one who is not pigmentally challenged, especially if they are muslim. So most senators nd their constituents will get behind this since the people who will be stripped of their citizenship were never real americans anyway.

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  • Mike D.

    What we can do is sgart to care – in numbers. We can try to persuade each other to care, but mostly we talk to like-inded people, and when we branch out, we tend to dismiss oposing iewpoints out of hand as unserious, which never leads to actual persuasion: only self-confirmation of each person’s status quo view. For persuasion to have any chance at all, we need to start to take the views we are trying to change seriously and treat them without contempt – even if we have contempt for them. Otherwise we’re just reassuring ourselves of our rightness vis-a-vis the opposition. In other words, do this more: .

    But in all honesty, I take a dim view of intra-polity persuasion. Because even if we do take seriously and treat without outward contempt the views of people who don’t care or emphatically have the opposite views as we do, generally they already have contempt for us and ignore what we say already anyway. Persuasion isn’t likely to have much impact. Instead, events have impact, and in my view, 9/11 is something we’re still just beginning to process as a polity – its impact remains the dominant one among the polity in influencing thinking on American civil liberties vis-a-vis terrorism. Look for people to start caring again about civil liberties in about twenty years if there are no more major successful strikes in the country and if the erosion nevertheless continues unabated. If there are further major successful attempts, allow additional decades to be added to that depending on their seriousness (i.e. maybe one decade had the Christmas plot worked, and maybe half if the bomb had gone off in Times Square).

    • Mike D.

      Sorry – “do this more: ” was intended as ‘turn off the snark.’

  • ejpeters

    It’s called community organizing, and it’s a long-term process. Think how long other movements have had to work, from abolition to votes for women to civil rights to labor issues — no progress for years, then some small steps forward, sometimes more steps backward, then some more progress… Why would civil liberties be any different? Electing Obama was part of the process, certainly better than McCain. But expecting him to lead on this issue is ridiculous. Executives in power don’t lead on the issue of restraining executive power. We need to build a strong movement, and maybe we need a leader, but it’s not going to be Obama.

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