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Formalizing Tyranny

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The National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 (NDAA) contains provisions that give the president power to use the military to arrest anyone including U.S. citizens and hold them indefinitely without charges or trial, anywhere in the world. The provisions shred due process of law and habeas corpus, and they effectively repeal the Posse Comitatus Act, which forbids the use of the military in domestic law enforcement. Having been approved by both houses of Congress, the bill paves the way for a full-blown police state in this country.

The Obama administration had reportedly threatened a veto of the bill. However, their objections were not that the legislation violated the Bill of Rights or that it ran contrary to core American values of justice and rule of law. Rather, they objected that it intruded too far into the presidents unitary executive authority to imprison people indefinitely without charges or trial.

It is important to remember that the provisions in the NDAA, however odious, are merely a codification of what the U.S. government has been doing for the past ten years. Since 2001, the U.S. military and the CIA have been capturing and incarcerating foreigners and Americans without due process of law. Moreover, it was just last fall that the Obama administration asserted the authority to extrajudicially execute suspected terrorists, including U.S. citizens. Salons Glenn Greenwald provides an interesting perspective on this issue:

I haven’t written about this bill until now for one reason: as odious and definitively radical as the powers are which this bill endorses, it doesn’t actually change the status quo all that much. That’s because the Bush and Obama administrations have already successfully claimed most of the powers in the bill, and courts have largely acquiesced. To be sure, there are dangers to having Congress formally codify these powers. But a powerful sign of how degraded our political culture has become is that this bill which in any other time would be shockingly extremist actually fits right in with who we are as a nation and what our political institutions are already doing. To be perfectly honest, I just couldn’t get myself worked up over a bill that, with some exceptions, does little more than formally recognize and codify what our Government is already doing.

Some claim the provisions of this law are necessary to protect the country, but we are now more than ten years removed from the 9/11 attacks, Osama bin Laden is dead, and the U.S. government has declared al-Qaeda to be operationally ineffective. But rather than declaring victory and coming home, we see the spectacle of Congress voting overwhelmingly to expand the war on terror.

Chris Anders of the ACLU puts it well:

I know it sounds incredible. New powers to use the military worldwide, even within the United States? Hasn’t anyone told the Senate that Osama bin Laden is dead, that the president is pulling all of the combat troops out of Iraq and trying to figure out how to get combat troops out of Afghanistan too? And American citizens and people picked up on American or Canadian or British streets being sent to military prisons indefinitely without even being charged with a crime. Really? Does anyone think this is a good idea? And why now?

The war on terror, like all wars, has allowed government officials to claim a vast range of new powers that they are not anxious to relinquish, ever. So the American people must be kept fearful and alarmed; otherwise they may begin to ask tough questions and demand that the war be wound down.

For the political class and their corporate beneficiaries in the military-industrial complex, the last ten years of death and destruction have been a bonanza. The Pentagons base budget has grown from $390 billion in fiscal year 2001 to $540 billion in fiscal year 2011. And in inflation-adjusted dollars, total spending on military operations has increased from $432 billion to $720 billion, a real increase of approximately 67 percent. The last decade has also witnessed a stupendous increase in the budgets of the nations multitudinous intelligence agencies, increasing from a reported $40 billion in 2001 to well over $100 billion today. Total national security spending is now estimated to be in excess of $1 trillion per year.

Such spending levels cannot help but have a distorting effect on the country’s economy as well as her politics. Military spending bills are politically engineered to guarantee sufficient yea votes in Congress. And portions of the vast profits reaped by giant defense-contracting firms are invested in the form of bribes, campaign contributions to politicians, and sizeable donations to Beltway think tanks advocating more militarism and bellicosity abroad. (See Nick Turses The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives, or read Richard Cummingss article Lockheed Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.)

James Madison said, No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare, and the war on terror is truly an endless war. With Congress and the president declaring the country a battlefield, long-standing American notions of justice and the rule of law will soon become casualties if they haven’t already.

We are told the nation is forever threatened by cave-dwelling terrorists, and therefore we must surrender our once-cherished civil liberties and accept martial law. Meanwhile, the debt-ridden U.S. government persists with its interventionist foreign policy, thus guaranteeing the reliable stream of avenging evildoers that the bloated national-security state relies on to justify its existence. With a global empire supporting a vast array of foreign military bases, there is hardly a conflict, civil war, or border dispute occurring in the world that doesn’t involve American interests.

The country’s police forces have increasingly been militarized. Law enforcement at all levels has been subordinated into what the redoubtable William Norman Grigg aptly refers to as the vertically integrated Homeland Security State. So-called fusion centers routinely conduct data mining on U.S. citizens and share the intelligence with the FBI, CIA, and NSA.

The U.S. governments vast surveillance powers are now arrayed against the parchment barriers of the Constitution. The courts, for their part, have largely acquiesced in Americas gradual descent into tyranny by winking at the governments serial abuses and declaring the Fourth Amendments protection from unreasonable search and seizure essentially null and void in several ignominious decisions.

So America is to be the new battlefield in the war on terror. NDAA substitutes the rule of law with martial law. The U.S. Constitution, long a mere cipher, is now being overtly trashed by bought-and-paid for politicians. It speaks volumes about the state of the country that such a blatantly unconstitutional and tyrannical act could pass overwhelmingly in Congress with nary a protest from the media or the general public.

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    Tim Kelly is a columnist and policy advisor at The Future of Freedom Foundation in Fairfax, Virginia, a correspondent for Radio America’s Special Investigator, and a political cartoonist.