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War on Terrorism or Police State?

The attacks of September 11th, 2001 caused significant changes throughout our society. For our military services, this included increased force protection, greater security, and of course the deployment to and prosecution of the War on Terrorism in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Sadly, one of the first acts of our President was to waive the high deployment overtime pay of our servicemen and women who are serving on the front lines of our new War. The Navy estimates that the first year costs of this pay would equal about 40 cruise missiles. The total cost of this overtime pay may only equal about 300 cruise missiles, yet this Administration said it would cost too much to pay our young men and women what the Congress and the previous Administration had promised them.

In another ironic twist, the War on Terrorism has the potential to bring the US military into American life as never before. A Northern Command has been created to manage the military’s activity within the continental United States. Operation Noble Eagle saw combat aircraft patrolling the air above major metropolitan areas, and our airports are only now being relieved of National Guard security forces. Moreover, there is a growing concern that the military will be used domestically, within our borders, with intelligence and law enforcement mandates as some now call for a review of the Posse Comitatus Act prohibitions on military activity within our country.

In the 1960s, the lines between illegal intelligence, law enforcement and military practices became blurred as Americans wanting to make America a better place for all were targeted and attacked for political beliefs and political behavior. Under the cloak of the Cold War, military intelligence was used for domestic purposes to conduct surveillance on civil rights, social equity, antiwar, and other activists. In the case of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Operation Lantern Spike involved military intelligence covertly operating a surveillance operation of the civil rights leader up to the time of his assassination. In a period of two months, recently declassified documents on Operation Lantern Spike indicate that 240 military personnel were assigned in the two months of March and April to conduct surveillance on Dr. King. The documents further reveal that 16,900 man-hours were spent on this assignment. Dr. King had done nothing more than call for black suffrage, an end to black poverty, and an end to the Vietnam War. Dr. King was the lantern of justice for America: spreading light on issues the Administration should have been addressing. On April 4, 1968, Dr. King’s valuable point of light was snuffed out. The documents I have submitted for the record outline the illegal activities of the FBI and its CoIntelPro program. A 1967 memo from J. Edgar Hoover to 22 FBI field offices outlined the COINTELPRO program well: “The purpose of this new counterintelligence endeavor is to expose, disrupt, misdirect, or otherwise neutralize” black activist leaders and organizations.

As a result of the Church Committee hearings, we later learned that the FBI and other government authorities were conducting black bag operations that included illegally breaking and entering private homes to collect information on individuals. FBI activities included “bad jacketing,” or falsely accusing individuals of collaboration with the authorities. It included the use of paid informants to set up on false charges targeted individuals. And it resulted in the murder of some individuals. Geronimo Pratt Ji Jaga spent 27 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. And in COINTELPRO documents subsequently released, we learn that Fred Hampton was murdered in his bed while his pregnant wife slept next to him after a paid informant slipped drugs in his drink.

Needless to say, such operations were well outside the bounds of what normal citizens would believe to be the role of the military, and the Senate investigations conducted by Senator Frank Church found that to be true. Though the United States was fighting the spread of communism in the face of the Cold War, the domestic use of intelligence and military assets against its own civilians was unfortunately reminiscent of the police state built up by the Communists we were fighting.

We must be certain that the War on Terrorism does not threaten our liberties again. Amendments to H.R. 4547, the Costs of War Against Terrorism Act, that would increase the role of drug interdiction task forces to include counter intelligence, and that would increase the military intelligence’s ability to conduct electronic and financial investigations, can be the first steps towards a return to the abuses of constitutional rights during the Cold War. Further, this bill includes nearly $2 billion in additional funds for intelligence accounts. When taken into account with the extra-judicial incarceration of thousands of immigration violators, the transfer of prisoners from law enforcement custody to military custody, and the consideration of a ‘volunteer’ terrorism tip program, America must stand up and protect itself from the threat not only of terrorism, but of a police state of its own.

There does exist a need to increase personnel pay accounts, replenish operations and maintenance accounts and replace lost equipment. The military has an appropriate role in protecting the United States from foreign threats, and should remain dedicated to preparing for those threats. Domestic uses of the military have long been prohibited for good reason, and the same should continue to apply to all military functions, especially any and all military intelligence and surveillance. Congress and the Administration must be increasingly vigilant towards the protection of and adherence to our constitutional rights and privileges. For, if we win the war on terrorism, but create a police state in the process, what have we won?

Cynthia McKinney represents Georgia’s Fourth Congressional District. This is article is a reprint of her remarks before the House Armed Services Committee on H.R. 4547, The Costs of War Against Terrorism Act.

She can be reached at: cymck@mail.house.gov

 

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