Just trust us, and we’ll keep you safe. That’s been the Bush administration’s trump card, used over and over since September 11–and it was played again in George Bush’s State of the Union address.
The White House has been on the offensive since the New York Times revealed in December that the National Security Agency (NSA)–under Bush’s orders–flouted the law by monitoring phone calls and e-mails of U.S. citizens without a warrant.`
The administration should be reeling from the exposure of this latest deception. “By the way,” Bush said, speaking in Pittsburgh in 2004, “any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretaps, it requires–a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed.” That was a flat-out lie.
But the administration knows it can score points because there is no opposition within mainstream politics willing to challenge it on the “war on terror.” After complaining about Bush’s failure to get rubber-stamp approval for the wiretaps from a secret intelligence court, the Democrats’ last presidential candidate, John Kerry, nevertheless assured the New York Times, “We all support surveillance.”
Kerry is right about the Democratic Party supporting surveillance–in its current Bush Lite phase, and throughout its history–but public opinion runs the other way.
A New York Times/CBS News poll found that 68 percent of people were somewhat or very concerned about losing civil liberties as a result of measures enacted by the Bush administration. Only when the threat of terrorism is thrown into the equation does a slim majority of people say they support the NSA wiretapping.
Missing from the Washington debate is any questioning of the administration’s cover story–that their spies and infiltrators are going after the “terrorist threat.” The record since September 11 shows something different: The White House exploited the attacks as the cover for pursuing its right-wing, pro-war agenda–and targeting anyone who got in the way.
In the witch-hunt of Arabs and Muslims that followed 9/11, more than 1,000 people were rounded up, but not a single one was linked to the attacks.
To judge from the Pentagon’s database of “security threat” investigations–exposed, to much less fanfare, around the same time as the NSA wiretapping–the military’s prime targets for domestic surveillance are antiwar activists. This fits with other evidence of local, state and federal spying–from activists turning up on no-fly lists to documented infiltration and harassment of peace groups.
These Big Brother tactics are being directed not at a security threat to ordinary people, but at a political threat to the White House and the federal government.
This is the U.S. government’s longstanding approach–justifying state repression of dissidents with rhetoric about protecting ordinary citizens.
The FBI’s COINTELPRO operation, started in the 1950s, was supposed to defend national security and deter violence. Instead, it perpetrated deadly violence against leading activists and organizations in the Black Power and civil rights movements and other social struggles.
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed in 1953 for allegedly giving the ex-USSR atomic secrets–in reality, their state-sponsored murder was part of the federal government’s campaign against the Communist Party.
A. Mitchell Palmer, the U.S. attorney general under Democrat Woodrow Wilson during the working-class upheaval after the First World War, declared that “trying to protect the community against moral rats, you sometimes get to thinking more of your trap’s effectiveness than of its lawful construction.” His Palmer Raids put as many as 10,000 socialists, anarchists and radicals behind bars.
According to the Bush administration–and its co-thinkers in both mainstream parties–the way to stop terrorism is greater police powers: more spies, more bugs, more interrogations, more prisons.
But none of this will stop the threat of terrorism against the U.S.–because its real source is the greater crimes the U.S. government carries out around the world, either directly through military force, or indirectly through its political and economic policies.
The occupation of Iraq is only the latest proof of the fact that the U.S. government is the greatest purveyor of violence–and terror–in the world. This is what stokes bitterness and hatred toward America–as does the shredding of civil liberties and racist abuse toward Arabs and Muslims.
As the Defense Science Board concluded in a 2004 report, “Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom,’ but rather, they hate our policies.” People in the Middle East, the board said, can see that the “American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq has not led to democracy there, but only more chaos and suffering.”
Therefore, the real solution isn’t more spies or wiretaps or repression, but changing the policies that cause the hatred.
The obvious first step is the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of U.S. and “coalition” forces from Iraq and Afghanistan. The next would be ending U.S. support for Israel’s war on the Palestinians.
But these conflict with the U.S. government’s long-term interests–the projection of U.S. power in the Middle East and beyond. The occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan–and Palestine–are central to this project.
Bush may talk about protecting ordinary people from “terrorism,” but he and the rest of the Washington political establishment are committed to policies of violence and terror around the world that make us less safe, not more.