Is the US a police state?

Some of this blog’s readers may be old enough to recall what used to happen in brutal Latin American dictatorships in the second half of the 20th century, when opponents of the government were picked up by the secret police and never heard from again, except when their mutilated dead bodies occasionally turned up. A whole network of state-sponsored secret prisons, systematic torture, and murder was put into place and paramilitary groups and so-called ‘death squads’, operating under the auspices and protection of the governments and usually consisting of security forces in plain clothes, used to carry out all manner of atrocities, leaving the public in a state of permanent fear.

It is time to ask the question: Is the US now such a police state? The immediate answer is, of course, no. The fact that I can pose this question publicly and periodically excoriate Obama, and before him Bush and Cheney, for their appalling violations of human rights and their flouting of the law and the constitution without fearing that I will be summarily arrested or murdered by the security forces tells us that for the most part and for most people, we still have what appears to be a nation of laws.

But it is the use of the qualifier ‘most’ in the previous sentence that should give us pause because ‘most’ is simply not good enough. The fact remains that we have now reached a stage in the so-called ‘war on terror’ that the US, while not a police state, has adopted some of the features of a ‘national security state‘. If the US government thinks you are a real danger to it, then it can and will unleash (and has unleashed) its powers to deny you your rights of life and liberty, the law and constitution be damned. The government claims it has the right to kidnap you, imprison you indefinitely, torture you, and even kill you, without any judicial process or even access to a lawyer, simply because it considers you to be a ‘terrorist’. The denial of some of these constitutional rights can be triggered not by any actual wrongdoing or serious harm to public safety but merely the threat of embarrassing the government by revealing its wrongdoing, such as done by whistleblowers.

What saves me (and most people) from any of the above deprivations of life and liberty is that I am simply not important enough. But that should not be the basis for complacency. We are not yet in a full-blown police state but the fact is that both Democratic and Republican administrations claim the power and right to ignore the law and constitutional protections for whatever reason and whenever they feel like it. This is a very worrisome sign for the future.

It is the bipartisan nature of this consensus that is particularly troubling. Compare this with what happened after the change of government in England. The new Conservative-Liberal Democrats coalition government’s first policy statements strongly reaffirmed their strong commitment to dismantling the national security state set up by the outgoing Labour government. The UK is also going to investigate acts of torture and give compensation to victims:

The Liberal Democrat MEP Sarah Ludford said: “Only a very thorough cleaning of the stables can re-establish Britain’s reputation as a nation of principles rather than a sidekick to appalling human rights abuses. It should also be judge-led, held as far as possible in public, and not rule out the possibility of prosecutions.

One has to see, if course, if the British government follows through on these promises but it is at least a step in the right direction.

Compare that with what is happening in the US. After strongly condemning the Bush-Cheney regime’s violations of all manner of civil liberties when he was a senator and when he was running for president, Obama not only turned 180 degrees and embraced those policies as soon as he won, he has even extended those abuses. Glenn Greenwald points to what is taking place in the US under Democratic Party rule that we thought was going to undo the abuses of the Bush-Cheney regime:

We get — from the current Government — presidential assassination programs, detention with no charges, senseless demands for further reductions of core rights when arrested, ongoing secret prisons filled with abuse, military commissions, warrantless surveillance of emails, and presidential secrecy claims to block courts from reviewing claims of government crimes. The Democratic-led Congress takes still new steps to block the closing of Guantanamo. Democratic leaders push for biometric, national ID cards. The most minimal surveillance safeguards are ignored. Even the miniscule limits on eavesdropping powers are transgressed. And from just this week: “Millions of Americans arrested for but not convicted of crimes will likely have their DNA forcibly extracted and added to a national database, according to a bill approved by the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday”.

Another total reversal of an Obama position is that he now goes after whistleblowers who reveal government wrongdoing, after earlier supporting whistleblower rights. In fact, Obama harasses whistleblowers more than Bush ever did.

As a candidate, Obama promised transparency, accountability, and reform of extremist Bush policies. As president, he usurped unchecked surveillance powers, including warrantless wiretapping, accessing personal records, monitoring financial transactions, and tracking e-mails, Internet and cell phone use to gather secret evidence for prosecutions. He also claims Justice Department immunity from illegal spying suits, an interpretation no member of Congress or administration ever made, not even Bush or his Republican allies.

As a result, his national security state targets activists, political dissidents, anti-war protestors, Muslims, Latino immigrants, lawyers who defend them, whistleblowers, journalists who expose federal crimes, corruption, and excesses who won’t disclose their sources, and WikiLeaks.

This is not the change that we believed in.

POST SCRIPT: Obama’s long list of hypocrisies

The Daily Show documents Obama’s hypocrisy on civil liberties, habeas corpus, rendition, wiretaps, and whistleblowers. During the Bush-Cheney regime, I used to hate to listen to them speak, so great was the discrepancy between their smug words about upholding the law and democracy, and their deeds. I have already reached that stage with Obama, where I cannot stand listening to his preening, self-righteousness blather either.

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  1. says

    I think government think that normal people can not imagine anything about what the future will be and what will be wrong with.They can do anything because of power.

  2. says

    I wouldn’t go to the extreme like David. US has been the super power of the world, and with that comes some responsibility. Someone needs to take charge every now and then or else we will be in the status quo and nothing will be accomplished.

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