Richard Nixon reminded us of the great dangers to our cherished liberties inflicted by the powers available to our government. Remember his “enemies list.” Or if you are too young to remember it real-time, hopefully you have read about it (Watergate!! Remember?). Nixon was forced to resign because of it. It was a victory of our free press.
Or if you want something more recent, what about “Filegate.” According to Wikipedia: “The White House FBI files controversy of the Clinton Administration, often referred to as Filegate, arose in June 1996 around improper access in 1993 and 1994 to Federal Bureau of Investigation security-clearance documents. Craig Livingstone, director of the White House‘s Office of Personnel Security, improperly requested, and received from the FBI, background reports concerning several hundred individuals without asking permission. The revelations provoked a strong political and press reaction because many of the files covered White House employees from previous Republican administrations, including top presidential advisors. Under criticism, Livingstone resigned from his position. Allegations were made that senior White House figures, including First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, may have requested and read the files for political purposes, and that the First Lady had authorized the hiring of the underqualified Livingstone.”
I feel bad using the above example after Bill Clinton’s wonderful article in today’s Washington Post calling for the repeal of DOMA, which he had signed into law in an earlier time.
Any power that government has can potentially be abused, so our Constitution strictly limited them and required checks and balances on their use. When I was in college – U of C Berkeley in the mid 1960s—George Orwell’s 1984 was still several decades in the distant future. Big Brother (an all-powerful government that looked after our safety and its own), with its ability to spy on our every activity to ensure that we behaved in the country’s (i.e. the government’s) interest, was a fictional nightmare that we couldn’t imagine happening in America.
Then came 9/11 and the Patriot Act. The American Civil Liberties Union flagged three powers in the Act, even after it was renewed in May 2011, that go too far:
“The three expiring provisions of the Patriot Act give the government sweeping authority to spy on individuals inside the United States, and in some cases, without any suspicion of wrongdoing. All three should be allowed to expire if they are not amended to include privacy protections to protect personal information from government overreach.
Section 215 of the Patriot Act authorizes the government to obtain “any tangible thing” relevant to a terrorism investigation, even if there is no showing that the “thing” pertains to suspected terrorists or terrorist activities. This provision is contrary to traditional notions of search and seizure, which require the government to show reasonable suspicion or probable cause before undertaking an investigation that infringes upon a person’s privacy. Congress must ensure that things collected with this power have a meaningful nexus to suspected terrorist activity or it should be allowed to expire.
Section 206 of the Patriot Act, also known as “roving John Doe wiretap” provision, permits the government to obtain intelligence surveillance orders that identify neither the person nor the facility to be tapped. This provision is contrary to traditional notions of search and seizure, which require government to state with particularity what it seeks to search or seize. Section 206 should be amended to mirror similar and longstanding criminal laws that permit roving wiretaps, but require the naming of a specific target. Otherwise, it should expire.
Section 6001 of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, or the so-called “Lone Wolf” provision, permits secret intelligence surveillance of non-US persons who are not affiliated with a foreign organization. Such an authorization, granted only in secret courts is subject to abuse and threatens our longtime understandings of the limits of the government’s investigatory powers within the borders of the United States. This provision has never been used and should be allowed to expire outright.”
Now our government has hinted that it might have the power to undertake extra judicial killing of Americans on American soil via drone attacks. I have been stunned in recent years at the relatively quiet acquiescence of many Americans to these dangerous extensions of unchecked or under-checked government powers. They happily send their neighbors’ sons and daughters to far off lands to fight “our” enemies and to sometimes die there, while not having the courage to tell our government here at home to back off.
Today’s “The New Yorker” headlined “The Borowitz Report” with: “Poll: Majority of Americans Opposed to being Killed by Drone.” This is meant to be satirical, of course. But until Rand Paul filibustered in the U.S. Senate against the confirmation of John Brennan unless the government would state clearly that it would not target Americans in the U.S. without due process, you might have thought that Americans didn’t care much. Earlier this week Attorney General Eric Holder “wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a drone strike against Americans on U.S. soil. But he said the administration wasn’t planning on such a strike and would use the option only under extreme circumstances.” (CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2013/03/07/us/drones-five-things/index.html)
Following Senator Paul’s filibuster the Attorney General sent a new letter to the Senator stating:
“It has come to my attention that you have now asked an additional question: ‘Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?’ ” Holder wrote. “The answer to that question is no.” (CNN) This is a small but important victory for restraining Leviathan and protecting our liberties and it has taken a long time. I wrote on this same subject almost exactly one year ago: https://wcoats.wordpress.com/2012/03/22/extra-judicial-killing/
Thank you Rand Paul.
I have spoken out in defense of our constitutional liberties on a number of occasions as well, including: https://wcoats.wordpress.com/2012/09/15/further-thoughts-on-free-speech/, https://wcoats.wordpress.com/2012/09/29/freedom-of-speech-final-thoughts-for-a-while-at-least/
“The price of liberty is eternal vigilance”