Buried in the annual defense appropriations bill is a provision that would give the President the power to use the military to intern anyone – including American citizens – indefinitely, and hold them without charges or trial, anywhere in the world, including on American soil. The provision essentially repeals the longstanding Posse Comitatus Act, which prevents the military from engaging in law enforcement on US territory – the greatest fear of the Founders. Approved by a Senate subcommittee in secret hearings, the provisions open the road to a military dictatorship in this country – and for that we can thank Senators Carl Levin and John McCain, who introduced the measure. Both the FBI and the Pentagon came out against the Levin-McCain monstrosity, and Senator Mark Udall (D-Colorado) introduced an amendment striking the provision: the amendment was defeated in the Senate, 37-61.
The mind reels. As the ACLU’s Chris Anders puts it:
“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?”
Why now, indeed – and the answer is not hard to fathom. With the US banking system making very loud creaking noises as the eurozone descends into the economic abyss, and a total meltdown staring us in the face, the Powers That Be want to make sure they have their hands on the reins of power – and on the whip they won’t hesitate to use.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) exults that the bill will “basically say in law for the first time that the homeland is part of the battlefield” and anyone can be imprisoned without charge or trial “American citizen or not.” Graham doesn’t care about any of that sissy constitutional stuff, and never did – throw ‘em in the brig! Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a Republican from the “Live Free or Die” state, doesn’t care that she’s destroying the American republic and our constitutional liberties by voting for this draconian measure because, she says, “America is part of the battlefield.”
Nothing illustrates the longstanding warning from antiwar advocates that “war is the health of the state” than this ominous development. The principle that war leads inevitably to the erosion and eventual destruction of our constitutional form of government is being dramatized on the floor of Congress even as I write these words. At the Republican foreign policy debate held recently, Professor Gingrich lectured us on “the difference between national security requirements and criminal law requirements,” and, drawing on this spurious distinction, averred:
“All of us will be in danger for the rest of our lives. This is not going to end in the short run. And we need to be prepared to protect ourselves from those who, if they could, would not just kill us individually, but would take out entire cities.”
For the rest of our lives we’ll be in thrall to Gingrich, Graham, Levin, and the rest of them, on the pretext that we’re about to be nuked by a bunch of marginal fanatics hiding in a cave somewhere. It’s a thin rationale indeed for setting the stage for martial law in the United States, but it couldn’t have come at a more convenient time for our rulers, as they face the prospect of civil disorder in the face of economic collapse.
That the authoritarian strain in American politics is coming to the fore in this time of crisis should come as no surprise. Backed up against a wall, the ruling elite is baring its teeth, and the Constitution – which has long been a mere piece of moldering parchment rather than the law of the land – is easily disposed of. Our cowardly Congress, which lives only to advance special interests and line its own pockets, is hardly a bulwark against this onslaught: indeed, they are the source of it.
So where are the Tea Partiers, who warn against “Big Government” and denounce “RINOs” like Sen. Graham who don’t share their aversion to centralized authority? They’re busy campaigning for Gingrich, the “true conservative” and $1.6 million Fannie Mae “consultant,” who preaches the virtues of endless war. Besides, the Levin-McCain provisions will only be used against them damned Mooslims – right?
Wrong – but by the time these “patriots” realize how wrong they are, it’ll be too late. As Rep. Justin Amash, one of the few congressmen elected on the Tea Party wave who has a conscience (and a brain), put it, this bill, which is “carefully crafted to mislead the public,” is one of the most “anti-liberty pieces of legislation in our lifetime.”
As the economy collapses – say, around next week sometime – and as people line up at the banks to get their money out, and discover the till is empty, as the food distribution system breaks down, and the mobs gather and swell, they’ll call the army out into the streets to keep order. And it will all be perfectly “legal.”
Don’t tell me our sainted solons are cringing in fear of al-Qaeda, which is by now a mere shadow of a shadow: the real object of their fear is the American people – and they have every reason to be afraid.
The “debate” in Congress over the Levin-McCain provisions is not really what it appears to be, as Marcy Wheeler points out in some depth. On the Senate floor, opponents of the provision, such as Dianne Feinstein, mentioned the dangers of the army patrolling the streets of American cities only in passing, if at all: their real objection is that the provisions impede the really existing “war on terrorism.” Wheeler argues that the Obama administration would be constrained from utilizing its network of informants if detainees were handled by the military. As she puts it:
“Again, I suspect that’s the Administration objection. It allows them to do these things. But requires they do them with a paper trail Congress can audit. In short, it’s a future Fast and Furious scandal, the guaranteed exposure of all of their harebrained undercover operations, waiting to happen.”
The administration’s veto threat has nothing to do with protecting civil liberties: indeed, quite the opposite. As Sen. Levin noted in his remarks, a bit of politicking went on at the secret Senate hearing:
“The initial bill reported by the committee included language expressly precluding ‘the detention of citizens or lawful resident aliens of the United States on the basis of conduct taking place within the United States, except to the extent permitted by the Constitution of the United States.’ The Administration asked that this language be removed from the bill.”
The real purpose of the Levin-McCain provisions is entirely unrelated to “terrorism,” either by al-Qaeda or any known domestic outfit. It was put in there to codify a number of important “legal” precedents, which make it possible for the President to declare an American citizen an “enemy combatant” and hold him or her indefinitely without charges. This is the final step in a process that will enable the President to establish a de facto military dictatorship: it’s the “unitary presidency” meets the global economic crisis.
“America is part of the battlefield,” says Sen. Ayotte, quite accurately – and Americans are the target. Resistance is “terrorism”: dissent is a crime, and you’d better shut up and take it if you know what’s good for you. That’s the message they’re sending – and how, one wonders, will Americans respond?
Tryptophaned into a submissive lethargy by large doses of turkey and stuffing, and living in constant fear of imminent destitution, they hardly notice this historic betrayal. The trap is set, baited, and ready to spring: one has to wonder, however, if this passivity will hold once those steel jaws bite. I bet they’re wondering in Washington, too.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
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