President Obama used the bin Laden moment to push through and sign into law a four-year renewal of the Patriot Act, despite bipartisan resistance in Congress and the reservations of civil liberties groups. They had stalled its passage earlier in the year, hoping to curtail some of its particularly onerous sections, including the “lone wolf” provision that allows surveillance of non-US citizens in America, even if they have no ties to foreign powers, and the notorious Section 215, which grants the FBI authority to obtain library and business records in the name of national security.Bush's (and now Obama's) "war on terrorism" is a surreal incarnation of the endless war in Orwell's 1984:
One thing could not be doubted. The administration was visibly using the bin Laden moment to renew George W. Bush’s Global War on Terror (even if without that moniker). And let’s not forget about the leaders of Congress, who promptly accelerated their efforts to ensure that the apparatus for the war that 9/11 started would never die. Congressman Howard McKeon (R-CA), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, was typical. On May 9th, he introduced legislation meant to embed in law the principle of indefinite detention without trial for suspected terrorists until “the end of hostilities.” What this would mean, in reality, is the perpetuation ad infinitum of that Bush-era creation, our prison complex at Guantanamo (not to speak of our second Guantanamo at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan).
In other words, Washington now seems to be engaged in a wholesale post-bin Laden ratification of business as usual, but this time on steroids.
Should the postmortem to bin Laden be just a continuation of the same-old-same-old? Shouldn’t there be a national pause for reflection as the tenth anniversary of 9/11 approaches? Wouldn’t it make sense to stop and rethink policy in the light of his death and of a visibly tumultuous new moment in the Greater Middle East with its various uprisings and brewing civil wars?
At present, Congress is considering an expansion of the Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) that it passed on September 14, 2001, and that allowed “the use of force against those nations, organizations, or persons [the President] determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided” the attacks of 9/11. The current version builds upon the previous open-ended war model and actually expands the number of possible targets for the use of force to those who “have engaged in hostilities or have directly supported hostilities in aid of a nation, organization or person” that is engaged in hostilities against the U.S. or its coalition partners.
Nor does it have an end date. How long this overly broad, overly vague policy would remain in effect remains unknown. It would be far better if current and pending revisions of the AUMF were more honest in acknowledging that the counterterrorism policy it promotes is slated to last indefinitely, much like the “wars” on drugs and organized crime.
Nineteen Eighty-Four (mostly written 1984) is a 1948 dystopian fiction written by George Orwell about a society ruled by an oligarchical dictatorship. The Oceanian province of Airstrip One is a world of perpetual war, pervasive government surveillance, and incessant public mind control.Orwell wrote that mostly as a warning about the cold war and it was a broad caricature of Stalinist Russia, but it reads almost like a playbook for 21st century America.