Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Petty and Vindictive Government

If you oppose US policy, you will be punished. Even if you have broken no law, you will be punished. For authorities do not like "citizens" who do not know their place: subservient to the instruments of state, the bureaucrats.

Presumably in a democracies, everybody is king of their own castle replete with rights and safeguarded from unauthorized search and seizure, from harassment by the state. But in practice, a riled up government will put the "citizen" in his place, i.e. with his neck under the boot of authority and power.

Here is a relevant example from the Boston Globe:
David House, 24, a former MIT researcher from Cambridge, alleges in the suit filed in US District Court in Boston that federal agents seized his laptop, USB storage device, video camera, and cellphone when he arrived at the airport on Nov. 3 after a vacation in Mexico, then kept him from catching a connecting flight to Boston while they interrogated him about his association with Private First Class Bradley Manning.

The suit, filed on House's behalf by the American Civil Liberties Union, says House "was asked no questions relating to border control, customs, trade, immigration, or terrorism,'' yet agents kept his laptop, USB device, and camera for 49 days while they reviewed personal and private information as part of an investigation into his work for the Bradley Manning Support Network. The electronics were returned to him Dec. 22, a day after the ACLU faxed a letter to government officials demanding their immediate return.

"If the government had legitimate reason for wanting to seize my laptop ... they could obtain a warrant,'' House said during a telephone interview. "Instead they wait for me to cross the border so they can claim this nebulous authority.''

He accused the government of launching a "fishing expedition'' in an effort to find out who was supporting Manning and said it has had a chilling impact on his group's legal efforts to raise money for Manning because supporters fear they will also be targeted by the government. Manning, a former Army intelligence analyst, has been imprisoned by the military for a year on charges of leaking classified information about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that were posted on WilkiLeaks.
I get a chuckle out of right wingers who get in a lather about "death panels" and the smothering red tape of government. In reality those are figments of the imagination. The real oppression of the modern state is reserved for suppressing those who hold dissenting views whether right or left. Government expects obedience and views itself a authorized to take "whatever measures needed" to ensure the powers of the state. That is not the spirit of the American Constitution. It took the view that the power of the state needed to be limited to prevent tyranny because the context of the founding fathers was in a state in which authority ran roughshod over traditional liberties. So they worked hard to set up a government carefully circumscribed in its powers. But two centuries is plenty of time to forget the intentions of the Constitutional fathers.

Bradley Manning is a textbook case of overweening governmental power brought down on an individual. He is presumably "innocent before proven guilty" but his prison conditions have been essentially torture. This isn't detention for the purposes of assurance of an appearance in court. This is the state punishing somebody that it has already decided is guilty. Worse, it is a state using torture while claiming that its use of brutal treatment is not torture. Barack Obama, the same guy who decided that the niceties of arresting Bin Laden could be omitted by going straight to directed assassination is the same guy presiding over torture of a legally innocent man whose trial about leaking state secrets has not yet been held.

I thought the government of Richard Nixon was harsh and criminal. But Nixon never shot is "political enemies" and he certainly didn't seize and torture Daniel Elsberg over the release of the secret Pentagon Papers. The last 40 years have revealed a collapse of the rule of law and respect for constitutional rights in the US.

The US is in good company. The Washington Post reports that Belarus has arrested seven of the candidates for the presidency in the 2010 election:
A Belarusian presidential candidate was sentenced to five years in prison Saturday following a trial that he denounced as political punishment for challenging the nation’s authoritarian ruler.


Sannikov, a 57-year-old former deputy foreign minister, said that he was tortured by the secret police and that its chief personally threatened harsh reprisals against his wife and their 4-year-old son.

Sannikov’s wife, Irina Khalip, who is an independent journalist, is facing a trial, and authorities threatened earlier this year to put their son in an orphanage.

Another four opposition activists were also given prison terms of 3 and 3 1/2 years in the same trial.

Sannikov’s trial was the latest move in an ongoing crackdown on dissent unleashed by the government of President Alexander Lukashenko, who was declared the winner of the December’s election with nearly 80 percent of the vote. International observers strongly criticized the election.


Dubbed “Europe’s last dictator” by the West, Lukashenko has run Belarus with an iron fist for nearly 17 years, retaining Soviet-style controls over the economy and cracking down on opposition and independent media. However, his authority has been shaken recently by a worsening financial crisis and a subway bombing.
This is the path that the US is on. One where "citizens" must never question the power of the state.

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