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Saturday, November 24, 2007

Uncle Sam's Listening

Where’s the outrage? Civil liberties and constitutional rights are crumbling before our eyes, and the best response that most people in our society can muster is a yawn and then a request to pass the giblet gravy and sliced turkey. The propaganda machine in our country is churning at a furious pace in an attempt to condition us on one hand to believe that terrorism is the biggest threat that this country has ever faced and on the other hand to trust the government’s response to this threat. But can any public official with a straight face stand before us and confidently declare that a few thousand loosely knit insurgents are anywhere near the threat posed by the former Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War or the Third Reich during WWII? Or can they say that they have been completely forthright concerning intelligence gathering since September 11th?

Talk about weapons of mass destruction; President George Bush invaded Iraq by insisting that Saddam Hussein possessed (maybe) one WMD, while nine previous American presidents watched the former Soviet Union amass nearly 10,000 nuclear weapons. Americans never witnessed the encroachment into constitutionally protected areas during the Cold War that we are observing during the Global War on Terror (GWOT): Until recently, the government did not grant itself the power to surreptitiously break into your home or place of business; or access your medical and other financial records without your consent; or open your mail without your approval; or furtively listen to your telephone conversations and read your fax transmissions and emails; or hold you indefinitely in a secret prison without a writ if habeas corpus. These are all infringements into civil liberties that have inexplicably taken place since September 11th.

Now that it is clear that Saddam didn’t have a nuclear weapon’s program, the tone of the conversation coming from the Bush administration has been altered from Saddam having WMD to him being an evil ruler who needed to be overthrown, which has supposedly created a safer world. Well, if that’s the standard for preemptive action, does America now overthrow Kim from North Korea and Ahmadinejad from Iran; the remaining two prongs of the so called Axis of Evil?

The GWOT has been the impetus behind the domestic spy program, where the Bush Administration listened in on private telephone conversations by American citizens. Much to their disappointment, this program was ruled unconstitutional this past August by a Federal judge. Part of the fallout from this controversial surveillance program has the telecom companies, including AT&T and Verizon, seeking immunity from lawsuits as their involvement in the program come to light. Although the Bush Administration assured the public that this program didn’t begin until after September 11th, former Qwest executive, Joseph Nacchio, among others claim that the National Security Agency asked their companies in February, 2001 to participate in a potentially illegal surveillance program six months prior to September 11th.

George Orwell warned us in the book 1984 that this day would come; a day when the all seeing Big Brother would scrutinize our every move. Despite that these potentially illegal incursions into our privacy have come to light, we are still discovering that Big Brother is routinely tracking our phone conversations. According to the Washington Post (11/23/2007) Federal officials are obtaining court orders to access real time cell phone records without demonstrating that there is a probable cause that the surveillance will yield evidence of a crime. Does anyone believe that this is the type of society that James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and the other freedom loving delegates to the Constitutional Convention envisioned when they drafted the most sacred document in human politics? If so, the burden of proof is on them. We have crossed the threshold into an era where very powerful tracking tools are at the Government’s disposal. Sure we’ve heard the mantra that these tools will only be targeting terrorist suspects so that they will have no place to hide, but then, in the words of Robert O’Harrow, “there’s a chance that neither will we.”

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