George Orwell warned us, but what American would have expected that in the opening years of the 21st century the United States would become a country in which lies and deception by the President and Vice President were the basis for a foreign policy of war and aggression, and in which indefinite detention without charges, torture, and spying on citizens without warrants have displaced the Bill of Rights and the US Constitution?
If anyone had predicted that the election of George W. Bush to the presidency would result in an American police state and illegal wars of aggression, he would have been dismissed as a lunatic.
What American ever would have thought that any US president and attorney general would defend torture or that a Republican Congress would pass a bill legalizing torture by the executive branch and exempting the executive branch from the Geneva Conventions?
What American ever would have expected the US Congress to accept the president’s claim that he is above the law?
What American could have imagined that if such crimes and travesties occurred, nothing would be done about them and that the media and opposition party would be largely silent?
Except for a few columnists, who are denounced by “conservatives” as traitors for defending the Bill of Rights, the defense of US civil liberty has been limited to the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch. The few federal judges who have refused to genuflect before the Bush police state are denounced by attorney general Alberto Gonzales as a “grave threat” to US security. Vice president Richard Cheney called a federal judge’s ruling against the Bush regime’s illegal and unconstitutional warrantless surveillance program “an indefensible act of judicial overreaching.”
Brainwashed “conservatives” are so accustomed to denouncing federal judges for “judicial activism” that Cheney’s charge of overreach goes down smoothly. Vast percentages of the American public are simply unconcerned that their liberty can be revoked at the discretion of a police or military officer and that they can be held without evidence, trial or access to attorney and tortured until they confess to whatever charge their torturers wish to impose.
Americans believe that such things can only happen to “real terrorists,” despite the overwhelming evidence that most of the Bush regime’s detainees have no connections to terrorism.
When these points are made to fellow citizens, the reply is usually that “I’m doing nothing wrong. I have nothing to fear.”
Why, then, did the Founding Fathers write the Constitution and the Bill of Rights?
American liberties are the result of an 800 year struggle by the English people to make law a shield of the people instead of a weapon in the hands of government. For centuries English speaking peoples have understood that governments cannot be trusted with unaccountable power. If the Founding Fathers believed it was necessary to tie down a very weak and limited central government with the Constitution and Bill of Rights, these protections are certainly more necessary now that our government has grown in size, scope and power beyond the imagination of the Founding Fathers.
But, alas, “law and order conservatives” have been brainwashed for decades that civil liberties are unnecessary interferences with the ability of police to protect us from criminals. Americans have forgot that we need protection from government more than we need protection from criminals. Once we cut down civil liberty so that police may better pursue criminals and terrorists, where do we stand when government turns on us?
This is the famous question asked by Sir Thomas More in the play, A Man for All Seasons. The answer is that we stand naked, unprotected by law. It is an act of the utmost ignorance and stupidity to assume that only criminals and terrorists will stand unprotected.
Americans should be roused to fury that attorney general Alberto Gonzales and vice president Cheney have condemned the defense of American civil liberty as “a grave threat to US security.” This blatant use of an orchestrated and propagandistic fear to create a “national security” wedge against the Bill of Rights is an impeachable offense.
Mark my words, the future of civil liberty in the US depends on the impeachment and conviction of Bush, Cheney, and Gonzales.
PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. He was Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page and Contributing Editor of National Review. He is coauthor of The Tyranny of Good Intentions.He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org