This past weekend, we celebrated the creation of our nation. From the ashes of an oppressive dictatorship consumed with controlling every aspect of our ancestor’s lives, arose a nation dedicated to the idea that people should be free from government intrusion. Just review the Declaration of Independence. The 26 grievances listed by Thomas Jefferson can be summed up in one, general statement: we’re tired of being treated like little kids who need to have our every move and thought monitored.
So, how do you suppose Jefferson, Franklin and the Adams cousins would view this story? I suspect they would find the entire idea of the executive branch of the government convening a secret court to be ludicrous (after all, that was a specific complaint in the Declaration). I imagine they would then suppose that secret court demanding a publication reveal who it’s readers are, was some flight of fancy. How could such a thing exist in the country they swore their scared honor, treasure and lives to create?
Of course, the government insists such a thing is perfectly reasonable. After all, if not for the secret court, who will issue warrants against the terrorists? And the readers they’re after, of course they’re terrorists. No, not the radicalized Islamist kind of terrorist, but that other kind; the kind the government (and liberal intelligentsia) fears more: the red-blooded American! The one who might wonder what on earth the government is up to and why it’s doing what it does. The person who would have the temerity to demand the government be held accountable for its actions. Yes, that person is now declared a terrorist.
Imagine how dumbfounded the men who signed that piece of parchment 239 years ago would be at these actions of the government they created. After all, the government they sought to overthrow considered them terrorists, as well.
We’ve come full-circle. Perhaps, rather than simply wearing red, white and blue tee-shirts and marveling at fireworks, we should rededicate ourselves to this phrase:
“But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”
I recently got into a bit of a Facebook kerfluffle. The reason is, I re-posted the following statement from a fellow veteran:
“This is how I feel when a civilian thanks me for my service and protecting our “freedom”. I do my best not to go high and right as I kindly explain to them “You’re welcome, however no one in the military is protecting your freedom. If they were, they would have cleaned out Washington DC years ago. How many “terrorists” have limited, restricted or taken away your Constitutional rights? The military may at times temporarily provide for your safety and security, but they don’t do shit to protect your freedom… Get my point”
I realize this POV is probably more than a little unsettling to most of you, so allow me to explain why there are quite a few of vets who feel this way.
Let me start at the very beginning. Every person who enlists in any military service is required to take the following oath:
“I,<state your name>, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”
The bit about defending the Constitution, and bearing true faith and allegiance to it, would certainly make it seem like the enlistee was fired up about defending our liberties and freedoms. And most are. Yes, during my tour of duty I met plenty of people who initially enlisted for a variety of reasons, and those weren’t always the most altruistic. But it becomes nearly impossible to survive basic training without believing you’re putting yourself through hell for a damned good cause.
But you’ll also notice that the enlistee also swears to take orders from the President and the officers the President appoints over the enlistee. That makes virtually every military order also a political order. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it’s worked out well for most of our history. After all, there are plenty of republics that devolved into military dictatorship precisely because the military was not under control of the political institutions, or became factionalized under different political elements. The Founders were well aware of the dangers a politically isolated military would pose to a republic, and ensuring the military remained subservient to the political machinery was another genius stroke they had.
But the downside to this arrangement is what we’ve experienced over the past 15 years or so. The military has always been used by US Presidents as a foreign policy political tool (what exactly do you think Teddy Roosevelt was referring to as the “Big Stick”?). Throughout our history, though, most Presidents have used military action to either (a) defend or evacuate American citizens abroad or (b) prosecute actions against declared enemies of the US, which would also make them enemies of the US Constitution. But beginning with the Presidency of George W. Bush, America’s military was tasked with a new role: prosecuting military actions against…well, they still aren’t sure, really.
The ambiguity came after the attacks on September 11, 2001. Prior to that date, terrorists were considered criminals, regardless of where they hailed from. Even those sponsored by foreign governments, such as the group that went around bombing German discos in the mid-80’s. The response was unerring, and consistent: hunt and prosecute the terrorists legally while holding the foreign government militarily responsible. After the 9/11 attacks, Bush made a tenuous argument that the government of Iraq was responsible and invaded. But rather than hunt down the remaining members of Al-Qaeda for legal prosecution, we also invaded Afghanistan, also on the tenuous precept that their lack of a stable government allowed the terrorists to establish a de facto government.
At the same, a series of civil liberty circumventing statutes were passed and signed into law: everything from the Patriot Act and “enhanced interrogations” to warrantless wiretapping and travel restrictions were enacted. These were political decisions, which have not had political consequences for the enactors. Indeed, President Obama has actually curtailed civil liberties even further and set the table for his successor to all but abolish the Bill of Rights, should he choose.
The military, being under the control of the body politic, has had virtually no choice but to snap to and salute as these abuses take place. Their only alternatives are to either raise concerns about the political situation or mutiny. The first option, historically, has never been met by the public with much sympathy. Not that there haven’t been quite a few courageous officers who’ve tried to question under what authority the President and Congress are deriving their extra-constitutional powers, but these men and women were quietly shown the door. These people understand the military is no longer defending the Constitution, but instead defending the political process that is allowing the Constitution to be shredded bit by bit.
As for a mutiny, that remains highly unlikely. The idea of armed soldiers marching on Capitol Hill and the White House remains unfathomable to not only most Americans but most of the Americans in uniform. Again, it would be bucking nearly 240 years of history and tradition. Of course, the Romans couldn’t imagine a military leader crossing the Rubicon with an armed legion – until they clamored for Julius Caesar to do just that.
I wonder: how close are we to an armored division crossing the Potomac?
Last Friday, Anwar al-Awlaki, a leading Al Qaeda recruiter and operations planner, was bombed and killed. He had finished his breakfast in Yemen and was walking to his car when a Predator drone unleashed a Hellfire missile, killing him and several members of his entourage. These facts are not disputed by anyone. Had al-Awlaki been anyone else, the attack would have generated very little buzz. It would have been a below-the-fold story; a bottom of the newscast event.
But al-Awlaki was not just anyone. He held dual American and Pakistani citizenship. He was born in Arizona and lived the first 26 years of his life in the United States. The outcry over his killing has been astounding. It doesn’t seem anyone doubts that he was an important and active member of Al Qaeda. Nor does it seem as if anyone doubts one of Al Qaeda’s goals is to destroy the United States through terror and subversion. The problem a large segment of the population seems to have trouble grasping is that those two facts are intertwined and inseparable. An American citizen was targeted for assassination by the our armed forces.
Were that the case, I would agree that the killing was out of bounds. But here is the point I think everyone missed: al-Awlaki had renounced his US citizenship in favor of a pan-Arabic citizenship. He did not consider himself an American citizen any longer – and had, in fact, dedicated his life to destroying his former country. His killing was no different than killing any other enemy combatant on the battlefield. End of story.
What gets me particularly frustrated is that this another case of not being able to see the forest for the trees. People are focusing on the abuses of power perpetrated in the name of national security – but they aren’t focusing on the actual abuses. Warrantless searches and seizures, surveillance and a host of other violations of the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Eighth Amendments ensconced in Section II of the Patriot Act (an Orwellian title if ever there was one) are routinely accepted by today’s society. Think about it: most Americans are well versed in some of these provisions. They are what allows a TSA agent to strip search you at an airport. But like the sheeple we’ve become, we acquiesce to these demands in the name of security. I often wonder how many Americans are aware that without a search warrant, DHS can read your email, track your internet activity, listen to your phone conversations, plant listening devices in your home and office, recover your voicemail, or track your every movement by GPS (including the one we all carry everywhere we go – our cell phones)? How many realize that the government can arrest you, withhold bail, suspend your right of habeas corpus and waive your Miranda rights – all at their whim? These are some of the extraordinary powers granted to the Executive Branch under Title II.
Do you even care that these most basic protections from government power have been circumvented? Or are you one of the millions who don’t care, as long as the government is “protecting you?”
If you’re one of the latter group, you might be best served to remember this quote from Ben Franklin:
“They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”