On Thursday evening, I had the honor of addressing the Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) and the Students for Liberty (SDS) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The two groups were working together to oppose the U.S. government’s assassination program as well as foreign interventionism and empire in general.
During the day, the students promoted the event by distributing literature to students passing by a model drone that the students had constructed. The evening event began with a powerful presentation by a student representative of the SDS, a leftist group that back in the 1960s was one of the ardent opponents of the Vietnam War.
I began by talk by telling the audience that I could relate to both sides—the liberal side and the libertarian side. I grew up a liberal, I told them. Before I discovered libertarianism, I was the ACLU representative in my hometown of Laredo, Texas, and a member of the board of trustees for the local Legal Aid Society, a government agency whose mission was to provide legal assistance to poor people. I told them that as a kid I had even met Lyndon Johnson at his ranch during a campaign barbecue.
I told the audience that I thought it was fantastic that they were working together. I told them about our two college civil liberties tours, which featured a panel consisting of a liberal, Glenn Greenwald, a conservative, Bruce Fein, and a libertarian, me, with a conservative moderating the panel who served as an advisor to the Ron Paul campaign. Those tours were co-sponsored by The Future of Freedom Foundation and YAL.
I began my talk by wondering whether our American ancestors ever imagined that they were bringing a federal government into existence that would have the authority to assassinate Americans as well as foreigners anywhere in the world, including here in the United States. And not only assassinate but also to arrest without a judicially issued warrant and incarcerate, torture, and execute anyone they wanted without due process of law and trial by jury. Yet, that’s the country in which we now live.
I pointed out that these powers are inherent to dictatorships, pointing to Chile, where military General Augusto Pinochet used them to round up some 40,000 people and torture, rape, or kill some 3,000 of them. Of course, the CIA and the Pentagon loved it, which is precisely why they helped Pinochet oust the democratically elected president of the country and take power in a coup in 1973. The Pentagon and the CIA had the same mindset as Pinochet — that he was rounding up, torturing, raping, and killing communists. Don’t forget, after all, that this occurred during the Cold War and the latter years of the Vietnam War, when the “war on communism” was as pronounced as today’s “war on terrorism.” In fact, the evidence points to CIA and U.S. military involvement in the execution of a young American named Charles Horman during the coup, even though U.S. officials have always steadfastly refused to conduct an official investigation into the murder.
Pinochet had an assassination program too, and it might well have served as a model for President Bush’s and President Obama’s assassination program. His forces were assassinating both people within Chile and outside Chile. In fact, one of Pinochet’s most famous foreign assassinations was that of Orlando Letelier, a former minister in the Allende regime. That assassination took place on the streets of Washington, D.C. The team that set up the car bomb was led by a former CIA official who was then working for DINA, Pinochet’s counterpart to the CIA. The bomb killed Letelier and a young American woman named Ronni Moffitt, who was perhaps viewed as unfortunate collateral damage, must as nearby victims are viewed in Obama’s drone assassinations.
So, how did Bush acquire the same powers that Pinochet wielded? He said that 9/11 was a real war, just like World Wars I and II. That enabled him, he said, to treat the enemy as a wartime foe, which meant that he could kill suspected terrorists legally. And the enemy was anyone he, the Pentagon, and the CIA said was a terrorist. Since the terrorists didn’t wear terrorist uniforms, however, the Geneva Conventions didn’t apply to them and so it was considered okay to torture and abuse them.
Yet, terrorism is a criminal offense. No one can deny that. That’s why terrorist prosecutions are brought in federal court regularly. That’s why the perpetrators of the 1993 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center were prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced in federal court. The same for Zacharias Moussaoui, who was accused of conspiring to commit the 9/11 attacks. He was prosecuted, tried, and convicted in federal court.
So, what Bush did was essentially say: We now have the authority to treat this crime as either a crime or an act of war. If we choose to treat it as a crime, the Bill of Rights will apply. If we choose to treat it as an act of war, we can do whatever we want. In fact, with one American, Jose Padilla, they flipped back and forth, first calling him an enemy combatant and torturing him for 3 years, and then flipping over and calling him a criminal defendant, prosecuting him in federal court. They can now do that to any and all Americans. That’s the kind of system we now live under, 12 years after the 9/11 attacks.
Obviously, then, that legal fakery provided the president, Pentagon, and CIA the means to circumvent the guarantees that our American ancestors had fought so hard to attain in the 4th, 5th, 6th, and 8th Amendments. If U.S. officials could ignore those amendments simply by decreeing an optional way to avoid them, then obviously such protections become empty words.
But Bush did more than that. He also announced that the terrorists had struck America because of hatred for America’s freedom and values. That was a lie. After all, are the terrorists striking Switzerland? Of course not. The terrorists struck the World Trade Center in 1993, the USS Cole, the U.S. Embassies in East Africa, and on 9/11 in retaliation for U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. That included the brutal 11 years of sanctions in which hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children were killed, not to mention former U.S. Ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright’s announcement that the deaths of those children were “worth it.”
The U.S. government used the 9/11 attacks to simply do more of what they had been doing prior to 9/11. They attacked Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11, and killed and maimed hundreds of thousands of people there in order to achieve the regime change that the 11 years of sanctions had not achieved. Most of the people they’ve killed in Afghanistan also had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks. The invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, along with the drone assassinations, along with the continued support of dictatorships, along with the unconditional foreign aid to the Israeli government, have produced an endless river of rage, which is what makes the war on terrorism a perpetual war. The U.S. national security state, in fact, is the greatest terrorist-producing machine in history.
What’s all the killing about today, including the drone assassinations? The answer is simple to understand, even if U.S. officials don’t like hearing it.
There are people over there saying to the U.S. government, including the military and CIA: “Go home. Get out of our part of the world. Stop supporting our dictators. Stop interfering with our political processes. We don’t want you here.”
On the other side is the U.S. government, which is saying, “We are a force for good in the world. You must accept that. We are here to help you with democracy and freedom. We have the right to support your dictators and to influence your political affairs. We are striving for order and stability. This is part of our freedom as Americans. We know what’s best for you. If you resist us, we will kidnap, rendition, torture, execute, or assassinate you.”
That’s what the fighting, killing, death, and destruction are all about. People over there, including the ones they’re killing, are not invading the United States and attempting to enslave the American people. They are simply fighting for the right to be free of U.S. government control and interference.
I told the students that it’s not sufficient to condemn the drone assassinations, the NDAA, the Patriot Act, or other medium-sized cancerous tumors on the body politic. I told them that it’s necessary to dismantle the enormous cancerous tumor that is spewing out all the medium-sized tumors. That big tumor is the Cold War national-security state, including the vast overseas military empire, the military industrial complex, and the CIA. That’s the root of the problem. That’s what has turned America to the dark side and also sending our nation into financial bankruptcy.
I told them that it was incumbent on them to raise the conscience of their parents’ generation and that of their grandparents, both of which have come to treat the national-security state as a god and to defer to its authority.
The fact is that our American ancestors never intended to bring this type of government into existence with the Constitution.
I concluded by talk by pointing out the power of ideas to change the course of a nation. Young people, whether liberals, conservatives, or libertarians could lead the way in restoring a free, prosperous, peaceful, and harmonious society to our land.
What was so impressive was the deep insights that the students have about U.S. foreign policy. Then, after the talk, I went out to dinner with several of the YAL students. It didn’t take long to see that their knowledge of Austrian economics and libertarianism in general was as profound as their insights into foreign policy. Most impressive was their passion and deep sense of commitment. It was great interacting with them.