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Leading Humanity out of the Darkness, Part 1

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The ancient Chinese symbol for “crisis” perfectly depicts the situation currently facing the American people. That symbol was actually composed of two separate symbols. One was the symbol for “danger” and the other was the symbol for “opportunity.”

The danger we face as Americans comes in the form of a perfect storm, a storm composed of the U.S. government’s warfare state and the U.S. government’s welfare state. The danger posed by this storm constitutes the greatest threat to the freedom and well-being of the American people in our lifetime, and possibly in the history of our country.

Consider, first of all, the warfare state.

We now live in a country in which the government wields the power to assassinate people, including its own citizens, After all, that’s what they’re doing in places such as Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, and who knows where else. They’re assassinating people whom the military and paramilitary forces of the U.S. government have determined to be guilty of terrorism.

There are no trials. There are no judicial processes whatsoever to determine whether the victim of a U.S. assassination is truly guilty of having committed a terrorist act, or is in the process of doing so, or even whether he is likely to commit one in the future. The decision to take out a particular person through assassination is based simply on a determination made by a government bureaucrat or team of bureaucrats. That determination is conclusive and final.

Where does this authority come from? It is rooted in the so-called war on terrorism, a “war” in which the government, soon after the 9/11 attacks, assumed the authority to treat the federal crime of terrorism as either a federal crime or an act of war, at its discretion.

What do the assassinations in Yemen, Pakistan, and elsewhere have to do with the American people? From the very start of the war on terrorism, U.S. officials have repeatedly emphasized that in the war on terrorism, the entire world is the battlefield. It is a war, they have made very clear, in which the president’s powers, in his role as military commander in chief, include “harsh interrogation” techniques, kidnapping, rendition, indefinite detention, and assassination.

As U.S. officials have consistently maintained, the battlefield in the global war on terrorism (GWOT) includes the United States, a logical position given that the United States, they say, is the principal target of the terrorists.

The case of Jose Padilla

This mindset of “terrorism is war” and “the United States is part of the battlefield in the GWOT” was manifested several years ago when U.S. government officials arrested an American citizen on American soil and delivered him into the clutches of the U.S. military, who treated him as an “enemy combatant” in the GWOT, tossing him into a military dungeon in South Carolina.

When that American requested to speak to an attorney, the military told him that he wasn’t entitled to talk to an attorney. After all, this was war, the military said, and enemy combatants in war aren’t entitled to speak to attorneys.

The government’s position was that the American could be held incarcerated for as long as the GWOT lasted, which could be for the rest of his life.

That American was subjected to the mental torture techniques that the CIA and the U.S. military had learned from the North Korean communists, who had used them so effectively against American prisoners of war during the Korean War. Those techniques had turned the minds of American POWs to mush, which is why they confessed to war crimes. The mental-torture techniques learned from the communists and employed against that American some 50 years later included sensory deprivation and isolation. That’s what the weird goggles and sound suppressors that the American was forced to wear were all about — they ensured that his mind was damaged without the necessity of resorting to physical violence.

That American was Jose Padilla. What the U.S. military did to him, however, was only part of the story. The other part — the part that affects every other American — was the message that the Pentagon sent to every American citizen with the treatment doled out to Padilla: The U.S. government now wields the authority to do to every American citizen what it has done to American citizen Jose Padilla.

That mindset was again manifested a short time ago, with respect to the accused Detroit bomber who was arrested on American soil. People were crying, “He’s a terrorist! Turn him over to the military. Torture him. Do whatever is necessary to make him talk.”

While President Obama resisted the pleas and kept treating the suspect as a criminal defendant, few people, including Obama, questioned his authority to instead treat the suspect as an “enemy combatant,” if that is what he had opted to do.

When it comes to Americans, does the president’s authority extend beyond torture, kidnapping, and indefinite detention? Does such authority include assassination?

Soon after 9/11 the CIA assassinated an American citizen traveling in a car in Yemen. More important, Dennis C. Blair, the U.S. director of National Intelligence, recently confirmed that the U.S. government now wields the authority to assassinate American citizens abroad who are deemed to be terrorists.

Does the authority to assassinate Americans and foreigners encompass assassinations within the United States? Why not? Isn’t the entire world a battlefield in the GWOT and isn’t the United States a critical part of that battlefield? Surely no U.S. official is going to hold that the president’s wartime authority is limited to a certain section of the battlefield. Thus, while presumably no assassinations have yet been carried out on American soil, against either Americans or foreigners, the fact is that the authority to conduct such assassinations now exists. All that’s necessary for this particular sword to be unsheathed is the right crisis.

The example of Augusto Pinochet

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the most likely inspiration behind the U.S. government’s program of assassination. That would be the military dictator of Chile, Augusto Pinochet, whose program of torture and assassination was remarkably similar to that which the U.S. government has employed as part of its GWOT.

Pinochet dispatched agents of his military and his intelligence force, an agency known as DINA, into other countries to assassinate people. His victims were suspected communists, rather than suspected terrorists, but the procedures for determining assassination victims was the same as those in the U.S. government’s GWOT. There were no trials and no judicial procedures. Some bureaucrat or a team of bureaucrats would determine who was a communist, and that would be it.

As part of Pinochet’s assassination program, DINA agents were sent into the United States to assassinate a man named Orlando Letelier, who had served in the communist regime of Salvador Allende, whom Pinochet had ousted in a coup.

Having suffered brutal torture at the hands of Pinochet’s henchmen, Letelier was released, whereupon he moved to the United States and began lobbying against Pinochet’s dictatorial regime. Letelier was targeted for assassination. A DINA team planted a bomb in his car and exploded it on the streets of Washington, D.C., killing Letelier and his young American assistant, Ronni Moffitt, whose husband was also seriously injured in the blast.

The assassins knew that the Moffitts were traveling in Letelier’s car when they set off the bomb. They also knew that the Moffitts weren’t communists. But the assassins took the same position that U.S. officials often take when they’re assassinating suspected terrorists — that even though innocent people, such as family members, are going to be killed in the assassination, the operation is nonetheless considered worth it, given that the communist (or terrorist) has been permanently removed as a threat.

It is also of some interest that the head of the DINA assassination team that killed Orlando Letelier, a man named Michael Townley, also had ties to the CIA. He ended up receiving a light sentence — five years — for what was clearly the premeditated murder of two persons in broad daylight on the streets of the nation’s capital. After his release, U.S. officials granted Townley admission into their federal witness protection program, ensuring that he could live out the rest of his life in peace, obscurity, and tranquility.

Now, I ask you: How is it possible to reconcile the principles of a free society with one in which the government wields the authority to assassinate, torture, and indefinitely incarcerate without trial any of its citizens, simply on the basis of a bureaucratic determination that the person is a terrorist?

The welfare state

Consider, now, the U.S. government’s welfare state, the other part of the perfect storm that threatens our freedom and well-being. Here the threat is against our economic liberty and against the foundation for economic prosperity and rising standards of living that has historically characterized our nation.

The seeds for socialism — and that’s what the welfare state is — were sown at the turn of the 20th century, when American intellectuals began bringing into the United States the socialist philosophy that was sweeping Europe. The big, revolutionary change came during the administration of Franklin Roosevelt, when the primary purpose of the federal government became taking money from people who had earned it in order to distribute it to people who had not earned it and to regulate people’s economic activities. From that time forward, the federal government would be a paternalistic government, ultimately helping people with their retirement, health care, children’s education, food, housing, and other essentials of life, all the while claiming to protect them from the vicissitudes of life.

But it was in the 1910s that the twin jugular veins of the welfare state would be established. That was when the statists called into existence both the income tax and the Federal Reserve System.

The income tax would come to be enforced by one of the most brutal, oppressive, and terrifying government agencies in U.S. history — the Internal Revenue Service.

I found interesting the manner in which the mainstream media reported on the man who recently flew his airplane into an IRS building in Austin. The reports focused on — and ridiculed and mocked — the anger, frustration, and anti-government feelings that had motivated him to commit the murder-suicide.

What I found interesting about the reports was that none of them ever focused on the horrific things that the IRS does to people that drive them to commit such horrible acts. After all, this isn’t the first time that the IRS’s actions have driven a person to commit suicide.

Liens, levies, garnishments, audits, foreclosures, meetings, and, of course, an endless stream of threatening letters to people who are financially unable to pay their taxes. And all without any judicial review.

But, you see, the IRS’s aberrant behavior is considered normal, rational, and reasonable by statists, including those in the mainstream press. No one is supposed to question it, to challenge it, to point out how truly aberrant it really is. After all, it is one of the twin jugular veins for both the welfare state and the warfare state. No self-respecting statist is going to question that. The questioning — indeed, the mocking and the ridicule — is always directed at the victims and at those who challenge the outrageous actions of the IRS.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

This article originally appeared in the June 2010 edition of Freedom Daily.

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    Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.