Sunday, December 4, 2011

On Indefinite Detention Without Trial

By Sean Kerrigan | Published: December 1, 2011

When I was a student in middle and high school, we would occasionally talk about the loss of civil liberties in tyrannical countries. It was explained to us that these dictatorships or countries headed in that direction would deny their citizens free speech, a fair trial and other basic rights. This happened in all sorts of countries, western and eastern, rich and poor. Of course we studied Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union and Communist China, but we also looked at France, Greece and Spain, countries who’s corruption didn’t lead to the deaths of millions, but did lead to their subjugation.

I never understood how their people could abandon the principles of living in a free society with so little resistance. I still don’t understand it, but I think I’m beginning to.

In the United States today, the fundamentals of what it means to live in a free society are evaporating before our eyes. Every law made at the federal level, virtually without exception, is written by and for corporations and connected elites. They fully finance the campaigns of almost every single politician in Washington DC to ensure compliance. While this has been increasingly true for some time, and has allowed our collective wealth to be diminished over the last few decades, it is just now starting to bear much more visible and dangerous legislation.

Over the last few days, the US Senate has been debating the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 (NDAA), a bill which includes provisions that will allow the President and the military to detain any American citizen indefinitely and without trial if they are merely accused of aiding terrorists. The right to a fair and speedy trial is an inalienable right guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment; the right against indefinite detention is protected in the Fifth amendment, and yet what purpose do they serve now if someone can be held indefinitely with nothing but the government’s promise that they are guilty?

The risk of abuse is extremely high. Consider the PATRIOT Act which was passed with the pretense of protecting us against terrorists, but according to New York Magazine, it has been used almost exclusively for offenses related to the drug war. Furthermore, the suspension of Posse Comitatus allows the President, not congress, to deploy the military anywhere within the United States. Giving the military the power to arrest and hold people without charge indefinitely is extremely dangerous. Is it possible to envision future protesters could be held in Guantanamo Bay indefinitely without trial?

Meanwhile, our other rights are under siege. Only a week ago, we narrowly defeated another bill which would have censored the much of the internet. It only failed because internet service providers didn’t want to be responsible for having to do the censoring. Soon, naked body scanners (banned in parts of Europe due to radiation concerns) will be installed at bus stations, train stations, government buildings and perhaps one day in schools as well.

Excessive police force is used on protesters while the bankers they oppose continue to illegally rob their own customers of billions without opposition. The police use pepper spray, measured at about 5.3 million Scoville units. It can permanently blind and kill. Meanwhile, the media ask, “When will these protesters go home?” They never ask, “When will the rule of law be restored?”

For the most part, our nation is still calm. There are no food riots. There have been few deaths related to the increasingly anti-government protests, but this is a false peace. It is what Martin Luther King Jr. called a “negative peace.” He said peace is not merely the absence of war, but the presence of justice. We live in a violent society, but it is one of silent violence. Everyone who is not completely self absorbed or otherwise distracted by the vapid media knows it.

When will we care? Will we care when the next financial crisis causes the government to institute a sort of financial martial law? Will we care when the state budgets break down and our local police are either privatized or militarized? Will we care when our state governments are overtaken by a federal dictatorship like the ones that have taken hold in Greece and Italy?

If we get lucky, President Obama will veto this bill. That’s a much more complicated matter, so I’ll leave it at that. All I ask is that you be aware and that you do not dismiss this rapidly encroaching tyranny. We will need all our wits to resist this and we cannot do so if we spend months trying to help others play catch up.

One of my old college teachers once said, “You are only as free as the least free person in the country.” If this is true, soon there may not be a single free person left in the country.

courtesy Sean Kerrigan

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