In my article of yesterday, “The Benefit of Obama’s War on Libya,” I pointed out how President Obama’s new war provides him with the justification to indefinitely maintain war-on-terrorism powers that are akin to those wielded by the U.S.-supported dictators in the Middle East.
American statists might respond, “But Jacob, President Obama isn’t like the Middle East dictators that the U.S. government has long supported. He is a kind and gentle man. He’s not using his war-on-terrorism powers to round up, incarcerate, torture, abuse, and execute American dissidents and critics, as the Middle East dictators have been doing. Obama is using his powers with restraint. Like George W. Bush before him, he is keeping us safe from the terrorists and the drug dealers.”
The statists, both liberals and conservatives, miss the point, one that libertarians are easily able to grasp: The test of a free society is not the extent to which a regime exercises dictatorial powers against its own people. The test of a free society is whether a regime has dictatorial powers at its disposal that it is able to exercise against its own people.
A kind, benevolent dictatorship — one that is mostly nice to its citizenry but which has dictatorial powers at its disposal — is a dictatorship nonetheless. People living under such a regime are not living in a free society, no matter how convinced they might be that they are doing so.
Don’t forget that immediately after the 9/11 emergency 10 years ago, U.S. officials fought vehemently and viciously for the authority to wield war-on-terrorism powers against all Americans. That’s what the Jose Padilla case was all about.
U.S. officials selected the most unsympathetic American they could find, a suspected terrorist named Jose Padilla, to make their test case that would apply to all Americans. The feds are not dumb. They knew that the average public-school-educated American would side with the government in its case against an accused terrorist, especially one that the feds said was planning on exploding a nuclear bomb in an American city. Deferring to authority, as they had been taught to do in the public schools they attended for 12 years, average Americans either paid the Padilla case no mind or enthusiastically supported the government in its case against this suspected terrorist.
But during the entire case, the feds knew what the average public-school-educated American did not know: that the feds were actually fighting for the authority to wield the same types of war-on-terrorism powers that the Middle East dictatorships they had been supporting had been wielding against their own people for decades.
The powers included: the power to conduct arbitrary and secret searches of suspected terrorists; the power to round up and take any number of suspected terrorists into military custody as enemy combatants; and the power to indefinitely incarcerate, torture, abuse, and humiliate suspected terrorists, all without due process of law, jury trials, and other rights and guarantees our American ancestors bequeathed to us in the Bill of Rights.
That’s what they did to Padilla. By virtue of their success in the courts in the Padilla case, that’s what they won the power to do to all Americans.
All that they need is a good emergency, enabling President Obama, together with the loyal support of his powerful military and paramilitary forces, to do everything those Middle East dictators have done to their citizenry.
What is necessary to restore a free society to our land? At a minimum, the restoration of a free society requires a total removal of the war-on-terrorism powers that the president now has his disposal. That means a total repudiation of the war-on-terrorism paradigm, along with the Patriot Act, the enemy-combatant doctrine, torture, secret prison camps, Gitmo, kangaroo tribunals, kidnapping, rendition, and support of dictatorships. It also means a dismantling of the U.S. government’s overseas military empire and its standing army, bringing an end to the invasions, occupations, bombings, attacks, sanctions, embargoes, kidnapping, renditions, torture, abuse, secret prison camps, kangaroo tribunals, and denigration of the Bill of Rights.
Latin Americans are fond of saying that every four years they have the privilege of electing their dictator. What they are referring to is the right to vote for the person who then has the authority to wield dictatorial powers over them for the next four years.
Thanks to the war-on-terrorism powers that the president and his federal forces now wield over the American people, unfortunately American citizens now fall into the same category as their Latin American counterparts.