"If this were a dictatorship, it'd be a heck of a lot easier...just as long as
I'm the dictator..." - George W. Bush
Well, we might well be on our way there.
In case you’ve been too wrapped up in the holidays, errr, I mean Christmas, to notice, it has been revealed that our president has ordered the NSA to spy on U.S. Citizens without any sort of court warrant. At the least, this probably consists of tapping phones and intercepting emails, at the worst full-on data mining on individuals. Now, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillence Act prohibits the government from spying on U.S. Citizens, UNLESS a warrant to do so is obtained. Recognizing the importance of preventing crime (and especially nowadays, terrorism), getting such warrants is pretty damn easy, and very rarely are they denied (19,000 approved, 4 rejected since FISA was established). In fact, to make the process quick, you can even begin wiretapping immediately as long as you get the warrant within 72 hours. Some argue that the FISA court itself is just a rubber stamp to get around Fourth Amendment protections.
See, we’re a country with laws. We respect the right to privacy, but we realize that to protect citizens, sometimes we have to snoop, and therefore the legal means to do so are available. The government chose to ignore the legal requirements. Their rationalization blows my mind. Here’s what Dick Cheney said:
“Especially in the day and age we live in … the president of the United States needs to have his constitutional powers unimpaired, if you will, in terms of the conduct of national security policy.”
What struck me the most is how this resembles the justifications used by South American militaries and leaders when they want to consolidate power or to justify a military coup. They cite the constitution.
When I was in graduate school, this was sort of my area. My favorite professor was Brian Loveman. Dr. Loveman is one of the leading experts on civil-military relations. He has an excellent book, The Constitution of Tyranny, which maps out phrases in the Constitutions of various Latin American countries which allow for “regimes of exception” under which civil liberties are curtailed and martial law is imposed. The constitution itself allows the constitution to be suspended. Invariable, regimes of exception are invoked after citing terrorist threats, domestic enemies, and internal instability, whether or not the threat is credible or not. They usually refer to their Constitutional duty to protect La Patria (fatherland). Actually, For La Patria is another book written by Dr. Loveman on the subject.
I’m not saying we’re there yet. But the latest course of events has me worried. The President and his defenders tell us they are eavesdropping on terrorists, but without a court order, why should we believe them? Conservative bloggers certainly have no insight on the issue, they're just guessing on whos privacy is being invaded. If no court orders are required, what was to stop Bush from eavesdropping on John Kerry during the last election campaign? How do we know he didn't?
The President has gone so far over the line on this that a credible argument for it does not exist. Yet, there they are, the Bush brigade, defending it and calling us who oppose traitors. It makes me wonder what Bush has to do to gain their ire. I think David Cross had it right: Bush will need to eat a Jewish baby on live TV before people wake up to this shit. "That’s the only crazy evil thing for Bush left to do … ‘Mmm, that’s good Jew-baby heart! What’re ya gonna do, Grandma, vote for Kucinich?’”