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The Loyal Citizen’s Contract with the American Government

It seems like not a day passes without a new allegation of the Bush administration trampling on civil liberties, violating the law, and disregarding the constitution. I had been collecting links to write about my concerns about all this but the list kept expanding too rapidly for me to keep up, with fresh allegations appearing while I was still pondering what to say about the earlier ones.

One of the things that concerns me is the willingness of so many people to give up cherished and bitterly won freedoms and constitutional protections in return from some vague assertion from the government that these measures were taken to ‘protect them.’ It seemed like they take the position that there is nothing that the government can do in the name of security that they would oppose. David Brooks’ op-ed column in the New York Times on December 22, 2005 plumbs new depths in finding rationales for the president to do almost anything in the name of national security, and to pooh-pooh any quaint notions of judicial oversight. (Sorry, this article is not available online.) The Wall Street Journal reports that some observers say this willingness to give up all pretence to civil liberties has its roots in the decision to attack Iraq.

“From the beginning, the folks who thought it was a good idea to go into Iraq have found good reason to think that all other Bush policies, from torture to domestic surveillance, are justified,” said Robert Levy, a conservative legal scholar at the libertarian Cato Institute.

The arguments justifying these increasingly drastic encroachments on the liberties and freedoms Americans have taken for granted take the form of creating some extreme hypothetical scenario under which the violation of rights seems to be the only option available in terms of “security” and “efficiency.” Then the leap is made that these violations should become the norm.

Benjamin Franklin’s prescient warning that “They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security” seems to have no effect on such people.

The Rude Pundit says that if you really think that this administration can do no wrong, then go ahead and proudly sign “The Loyal Citizen’s Contract with the American Government” below and mail it in to the appropriate agencies. This pledge brings together the actions that are currently being taken in the name of protecting our security. (The Pledge is reproduced with permission from the Rude One. (Warning: The Rude Pundit generally uses very rude language, but not in this pledge)

“I (the undersigned) believe President George W. Bush when he says that the United States of America is fighting a ‘new kind of enemy’ that requires ‘new thinking’ about how to wage war. Therefore, as a loyal citizen of President Bush’s United States, my signature below indicates my agreement to the following:

“1. I believe wholeheartedly in the Patriot Act as initially passed by Congress in 2001, as well as the provisions of the Domestic Security Enhancement Act. Therefore, I grant the FBI access to:

“a. my library records, so it may determine if I am reading material that might designate me an enemy of the nation;

“b. my financial records, including credit reports, so it may determine if I am contributing monetarily to any governmentally proscribed activities or organizations;

“c. my medical records, so it may determine if my prescriptions, injuries, or other conditions are indicative of terrorist activity on my part;

“d. any and all other personal records including, but not limited to, my store purchases, my school records, my web browsing history, and anything else determined as a ‘tangible thing’ necessary to engage in a secret investigation of me.

“I agree that I do not need to be notified if my records have come under scrutiny by the FBI, and, furthermore, I agree that no warrant is needed for the FBI to engage in this examination of my personal records. Additionally, I agree that the FBI should be allowed to monitor any groups it believes may be linked to what it determines to be terrorist activity.

“2. I believe that the President of the United States has the power to mitigate any and all laws passed by the Congress and that he has such power granted to him by his status as Commander-in-Chief in the Constitution as well as the 2001 Authorization of Military Force, passed by the Congress, which states that the President can use ‘all necessary and appropriate force’ in prosecution of the war. Therefore, I grant the United States government the following powers:

“a. that the National Security Agency, under the direction of the President, may tap my phone lines and intercept my e-mail without warrant or FISA oversight;

“b. that the President may hold me or other detainees without access to the legal system for a period of time determined by the President or his agents;

“c. that the President may authorize physical force against me or other individual detainees in order to gain intelligence and that he may define whether such physical force may be called ‘torture':

“d. that the President may set aside any and all laws he sees as hindering the gathering of intelligence and prevention of terrorist acts for a period as time determined by the President, including, but not limited to, rights to political protest.

“I agree that the Judicial and Legislative branch should be allowed no oversight of these activities, and that such oversight merely emboldens the terrorists. I also agree that virtually all of these activities may be conducted in complete secrecy and that revelation of these activities amount to treasonous behavior on the part of those who reveal these activities to the press and the citizenry.

“3. Finally, this document is my statement that I believe the President of the United States and the entire executive branch, as well as all departments and agencies involved, as well as all of its personnel, will treat these powers I have granted them with utmost respect. I believe that these powers will not be abused, nor will any of the information I have given them permission to examine be misinterpreted. However, should such abuse or misinterpretation occur, I agree that such actions are mere errors and no one should be subject to investigation, arrest, or employment action as a result.

“My consent freely given,
“(Your signature)”

Anyone willing to sign?

POST SCRIPT

Tom Tomorrow completes his year in review.

Comments

  1. Gregory Szorc says

    Dr. Singham, you took the words out of my mouth. When I woke up today, my mind was racing with my personal and political views of the “breaches” of civil liberty the current administration is committing in the name of national security. Although the facts speak for themselves, I’m not sure that I am personally bothered. I would like to think that those who have nothing to hide have nothing to lose from these laws. It is not like your neighbor will be hacking into your computer and viewing your browser history without good reason. Yet, by justifying these actions, we just set ourselves up for more liberties to be removed in the future. Some people like to cite the slippery-slope, but I believe that to be a flawed argument in democracies, as the voting body has ultimate control over the degree of the slope. The elected bodies have minimal control, but every two years, at the most, we have the opportunity to replace a large body of those in direct control of this slope.

    Benjamin Franklin has another quote which fittingly complements the one from above, “All human situations have their inconveniences. We feel those of the present but neither see nor feel those of the future; and hence we often make troublesome changes without amendment, and frequently for the worse.”

    I like to rationalize choices. I can see the argument for security that the government has pushed. If it means saving mine or the life of another, is it worth having your civil liberties suspended for one or two occassions, especiallly if you are innocent and if you will never know about it? This question is a challenging one, especially if you are committed to a political ideology. Being unwavering in the presence of adversity tells a lot about your character. Purposefully wavering for the sake of your self and fellow countrymen says something else. Ultimately, I don’t believe there is a right or wrong answer. Both sides have a compelling argument and I can side with both on the issue. However, since we are in a democracy, it is ultimately up to the majority opinion to decide the course of events. Let the political brainwashing begin.

  2. says

    Gregory,

    I agree these are tricky choices that must be made. The argument that if one is “innocent” one has nothing to fear from these breaches of civil liberty makes sense if we (i.e. the government security appparatus and us) are in agreement on what we are innocent of. If history is any guide, though, governments ultimately mostly use their authority against “thought crimes,” i.e., ideas and the people who hold them that they consider dangerous to their own power. We give them power for a very limited use, and they then use it for much wider purposes that we ever intended. That seems to me to be almost like an iron law. This is why I take a hard line against infringement on civil liberties, like those outlined in the Bill of Rights.

    In periods of “clear and present danger” where there is an immediate threat, one can see the case being made for a very temporary suspension of liberties. But that period has to be measured in days and maybe weeks, and not in months and years as seems to be the case now.

  3. says

    While having been a frequent supporter of Bush’s policies this last decision has given me some pause. It is always difficult to find that balance in security and liberty but where do you draw the line. I was wondering where would you draw the line? An argument that is brought up a lot when defending a policy like the NSA program is that we have not been attacked internationally or domestically since 9/11. In Clinton’s eight years how many attacks were there? I have to say that something is working but I do feel that maybe we are giving up to much. I remember after the Patriot Act was first passed there were worries about civil liberties. One of the solutions would and still can be judicial over site. If someone thought they were being wronged with the Patriot Act it could be argued in the courts. Yet in four years as far as I know not a single case has. I do agree with Greg that there is no perfect answer. You can argue one way or another but either side will continually believe we are either losing security or liberty.

    On a different note, I would like to know what is the breed of your newest family member?

  4. says

    John,

    Baxter is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. He currently weighs about 5-6 pounds and should be about 15 lbs when full grown. He is a very affectionate and friendly dog. Of course, being a puppy, he is full of energy and curiosity as well.

    The problem with the breaches of civil liberties currently underway is that you can be prevented from going to the courts. Look at the trouble that Jose Padilla is facing intrying to get his case heard. And the secrecy means that it is possible for any of us to be whisked away and not have access to family or lawyers or the courts. This is what concerns me.

    The Patriot act enables people to be wronged without them being aware of it or being told of it by others who know of it. That is the problem.

    Of course, Lincoln dispensed with many liberties during the civil war, as many people point out. But the civil war and the current state cannot be compared. There is no real threat to the country. People go about their lives with no thought of terror atatcks. At best we have a level of threat similar to that of a large criminal conspiacy, like organized crime gangs. I think people have more to fear from crime and auto accidents that from a terror attack but we handle those using the civil legal system.

    I do not feel terrified at the thought of an impending terrorist attack. Not in the least. Maybe I am living in a dream world, but that is the way it is. I am far more concerned about the real civil liberties violations that are being institutionalized to become permanent.

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