EDITORIAL: Our Civil Liberties Are in Grave Danger


(APN) ATLANTA — One of the most salient questions of contemporary political science has been how Germany–a democracy with so much promise–devolved so quickly into a fascist totalitarian dictatorship in the years before World War Two.

In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings this week, and the series of events that culminated in Boston being under martial law, I want to start with the above question, because the United States of America is in grave danger of becoming even more of a quasi-fascist state than it already is.

It is imperative for the citizens, organizations, and institutions who comprise civil society to organize, strategize, and unite at this time to defend the civil rights and liberties that are enshrined in the founding documents on our democratic government.

It is deeply concerning that the dominant corporate media narrative of recent events is that Boston was on lockdown and everybody is okay with it. Really?

The images we have seen of tanks and agents of state, federal, and local government authorities, with guns and other weapons, rolling down our neighborhood streets, and going door to door, are absolutely horrifying.

But I’ve seen those images before as a victim of Hurricane Katrina who was in New Orleans, Louisiana at the time of the storm. I had guns shoved in my face by Blackwater when I left my flooded friend’s house after several days in Uptown New Orleans, looking for help. My friends also had guns shoved in their face as they tried to escape downtown. I was one of the many people turned away from the Jefferson Parish line, also at gunpoint.

This is not the way to treat US citizens–we treated as if it was a minor aberration during Katrina, the exception, not the rule–but here it is, happening again.

Then there are the media reports of journalists in Boston being told they cannot photograph or otherwise record what is going on during the martial law episode. What could possibly justify such an egregious abrogation of our freedoms of the press? What could the US government possibly have to hide?

Then the mob mentality that I have seen on Facebook – the posts about, “Kill the Murderer!” are also of concern. Have you people lost your minds? First of all, let’s remember that the two brothers, including the dead one, are suspects, suspects who are accused of alleged crimes. While I know people want to put their blind faith and trust in the federal government to protect them, have we forgotten that the federal government has abused that faith and trust in the past? Do we not see the dangerous precedent that we set by empowering the executive branch of government to be judge, jury, and executioner of whomever they want?

Then beyond that is the obvious fact that with one or more of the suspects dead, it is less likely we will ever know the full truth, or that we will understand the motivations or the tactics of the suspects–if they are indeed guilty–so that we might learn something.

I want to go back to the months after 9/11/2001, in which the George W. Bush administration engaged in a lengthy and multi-faceted campaign to defraud the public regarding the purported need for the US to invade Iraq. I was one of a small group of protesters on the Tulane University campus in 2002 and 2003 who opposed the invasion.

At that time, now over ten years ago, I had a debate with a woman who said, “We have to trust our President, because he has access to information we don’t have.” Again, that trust was abused, it has since been revealed to have been a massive fraud. And how soon do we forget? How soon do we resort to our most base and primal instincts, seeking revenge when the facts are still not known?

I thought that maybe we had learn the lessons of post-9/11. I thought maybe the Bush Administration got their one freebie–their one fast one–and that we all knew that if they fooled us again, it would be shame on us. Well, shame on us!

I’m not alleging at this point that we have been fooled. I do know I have some compelling questions about the official account of last week’s events that do not seem to be part of the corporate media discourse. But I am saying that we have to be more cautious, we have to be more critical, we have to be more judicious.

If it really is true that there are people who attack us because they hate our freedoms, then isn’t it ironic that some people are so quick to surrender our freedoms in the name of security from those people?

One blogger at the Independent Institute asks the question, what is the threshold for martial law?

“I cannot help but wonder what the standard is that triggers the martial-law response we’re seeing in New England. If these bombers had murdered three but not caused as many injuries—if the sheer terror of their crime had not reached this magnitude—would Boston look like a totalitarian state right now? What if the police needed to find a serial killer? Or what if a city was home to lots of violent crime in general?” Anthony Gregory wrote.

“If the suspect escapes into another city tomorrow, can the police lock down one city after another until they find him? And how long will this go on? They might catch him and it might all end and Boston could be back to normal, if we can call it that, by the end of the weekend. What if he isn’t caught for a while? What if a future suspect implicated in a gruesome and dramatic criminal act next year manages to escape justice for months? Can the police now just shut down cities, transportation, and—as they did on Monday*—cell service for as long as they deem necessary? Should normal denizens really have no say of their own on whether they will risk the violent threats that might await them outside? If they have no right to walk about freely today without expecting, at a minimum, serious harassment from authorities, can the same be true on any other day?” he wrote.

“People tolerate extreme police powers when they seem temporary. The martial law after Katrina gave way to more civilized policing, such as it is in New Orleans. But what if the emergency persists? What if the U.S. becomes home to a crime plausibly labeled terrorism every couple months—can we expect a state of constant siege? Even then, the threat to any given American would be very statistically low. Yet the gruesomeness and horror could legitimize all sorts of overreaction,” he wrote.

These are all appropriate questions and observations.

The next important thing to consider is President Barack Obama’s use of the word “terrorist” to describe the attacks and the alleged attackers.

By using the word terrorist, President Obama invokes a whole new legal and ethical paradigm, which raises many questions and concerns, especially when, according to reports, at least one of the alleged terrorists, as in this case, is a US citizen.

There is an entire sociological literature on the socially constructed and arbitrary nature of the words terror and terrorism. The war on terror is a new type of potentially endless war of which we could have never even conceived before President Bush and 9/11. Who or what gets defined as terroristic seems to have more to do with the needs and priorities of who is doing the defining, than with any set of characteristics that would be equally applied across international and historical contexts.

As we know, the Obama administration, who apparently gets the green light to out-do Bush in treading on our civil liberties because he’s a Democrat, has taken the judge, jury, and executioner theory to new heights by a drastic expansion of the drone strike program, where the CIA, under no ordinary legal oversight structure, engages in the practice of murdering alleged terrorists in other countries, from the sky.

In 2011, I wrote for Inter-Press Service about a troubling provision that was part of the National Defense Authorization Act, that, on its face, allows indefinite detention of US citizens who meet certain vague definitions under the Act, such as someone who commits a “belligerent act.”

Under the Act, “covered persons”–meaning those whom the US government asserts it would detain indefinitely–include, “A person who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including anyone who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces.” (emphasis added)


Presumably, the older brother may have been killed under the same legal theory President Obama has used to kill alleged terrorists through drone strikes in other countries; and it remains to be seen whether the younger brother will ever go to trial, or whether he will simply be detained indefinitely, under the NDAA.

What this means is that, despite the insistence of the Obama administration and others that no one should be worried about these obscure legal theories that are only in place for an extreme emergency, that they are more than just abstract tools; they are now possibly, if not, actually, in use.

Another thing is that after 9/11, billions and billions of dollars have been invested in homeland security equipment and training, some of which has been focused on controlling and maintaining order here at home, in our cities and towns. This includes–as was recently covered by Creative Loafing Atlanta–a massive expansion of camera surveillance of public spaces.

With that in mind, we must also recognize that the government’s response to the Boston Marathon bombing has been an opportunity to deploy and test many of these new tools, weapons, and other means of mass oppression. We should be very frightened that what we just witnessed in Boston could become the new normal, in part because of recent technological advancements that had yet to be deployed against us in real time.

And that is why our response is important. If people do not object, at least to some extent or in some part, to what happened, then the federal government’s takeaway is that it successfully achieved a new level of repression with the consent of the people. That is the psychological aspect of this operation, whether that is its primary or latent purpose, and that is why we must object.

Finally, the questions about what happened. There are so many, but I’ll include one here.

According to Boston Globe tweets that went out the morning before the Boston Marathon, there was a planned bomb drill going on before the marathon. According to witness accounts, there were all kinds of bomb police, including what appeared to be bomb sniffing dogs, present, before the actual explosion. Why is the corporate media not talking about this? And how is it that bomb sniffing dogs could have missed an actual bomb?

Former US Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-GA) posted to her Facebook page the fact that there was an announced bomb drill at the same time that there was an actual bombing, resulting in a prominent Metro Atlanta Republican strategist to re-post the post, adding the description, “Pig!” [M.R., you know who you are, and this is why your posts are no longer showing up in my feed.] I mean, are we not even allowed to ask questions anymore?

So, this brings me back to my initial question – how is it that human beings, just like you and I, in a democratic society no less, in Germany – could have been complicit in the devolution of that democracy into a fascist state?

Well, as the Boston Marathon events unfolded before my eyes, in a bizarre, almost surreal kind of sequence, I didn’t say much of anything for the first few days. You know, I was busy with all the other meaningful as well as mundane things that I do during the week. As journalists were being threatened with guns, I was going grocery shopping.

And that’s when it occurred to me, that maybe that’s part of how it happened in Germany. Maybe, in addition to all the other factors, people were also simply too busy, too complacent, and too much hoping that the icky things would go away. Well, I’m not going to do that. No one’s going to ask me in fifty years, why I didn’t speak up when our neoliberal capitalistic democracy stood at the crossroads, and looked out over the precipice, seeing two alternative futures. I’m taking the time out of my day and saying all of this that is contained herein.

I would also point that with global warming taking its course, it is likely that we will continue to see more natural disasters, more internal displacement, and more opportunities for the government to assume powers over our movement, speech, and being, in the foreseeable future. With that in mind, we need to think very critically about what role we want the federal government to have in responding to future disasters, how we as citizens want to be treated, and how we want to treat each other, during these times.