Tom Engelhardt at TomDispatch.com delivers another straight on look at the de-evolution of the American republic into a militarized police state. As he astutely points out in this piece; “Maybe it’s time to face the facts: this isn’t your grandfather’s America.”
It seems we’ve been trying to face up to that for over a decade here at USTV Media. Whether it’s done any good or not, well, the fact that we are at this point today would tend to leave one shaking one’s head in the negative. Regardless, the truth-telling goes on as best as possible, as evidenced by this must-read dissertation from Mr. Engelhardt.
Since the al-Qaeda leader was aware of the relative powerlessness of his organization and its hundreds or, in its heyday, perhaps thousands of active followers, his urge was to defeat the U.S. by provoking its leaders into treasury-draining wars in the Greater Middle East. In his world, it was thought that such a set of involvements — and the “homeland” security down payments that went with them — could bleed the richest, most powerful nation on the planet dry. In this, he and his associates, imitators, and wannabes were reasonably canny…
In the meantime, he — and 9/11 as it entered the American psyche — helped facilitate the locking down of this society in ways that should unnerve us all. The resulting United States of Fear has since engaged in two disastrous more-than-trillion dollar wars and a “Global War on Terror” that shows no sign of ending in our lifetime. (See Yemen, Pakistan, and Mali.) It has also funded the supersized growth of a labyrinthine intelligence bureaucracy; that post-9/11 creation, the Department of Homeland Security; and, of course, the Pentagon and the U.S. military, including the special operations forces, an ever-expanding secret military elite cocooned within it.
And yet, in these years, what might have remained essentially a nightmarish fantasy has become an impending reality around which the national security folks organize their lives — and ours. Ever since the now largely forgotten anthrax mail attacks that killed five soon after 9/11 — the anthrax in those envelopes may have come directly from a U.S. bioweapons laboratory — all sorts of fantastic scenarios involving biochemical attacks have become part and parcel of the American lockdown state.
In the process, they oversaw the building of a National Security Complex with powers that boggle the imagination and freed themselves from the last shreds of accountability for their actions. They established or strengthened the power of the executive to: torture at will (and create the “legal” justification for it); imprison at will , indefinitely and without trial; assassinate at will (including American citizens); kidnap at will anywhere in the world and “render” the captive into the hands of allied torturers ; turn any mundane government document (at least 92 million of them in 2011 alone) into a classified object and so help spread a penumbra of secrecy over the workings of the American government; surveil Americans in ways never before attempted (and only “legalized” by Congress after the fact, the way you might backdate a check); make war perpetually on their own say-so; and transform whistleblowing — that is, revealing anything about the inner workings of the lockdown state to other Americans — into the only prosecutable crime that anyone in the Complex can commit.
What it means to be in such a post-legal world — to know that, no matter what acts a government official commits, he or she will never be brought to court or have a chance of being put in jail — has yet to fully sink in. This is true even of critics of the Obama administration, who, as in the case of its drone wars, continue to focus on questions of legality, as if that issue weren’t settled. In this sense, they continue to live in an increasingly fantasy-based version of America in which the rule of law still applies to everyone.
Here’s the kicker. According to the Post , the “legal principles” a White House with no intention of seriously limiting, no less shutting down, America’s drone wars has painstakingly established as “law” are not, for the foreseeable future, going to be applied to Pakistan’s tribal borderlands where the most intense drone strikes still take place. The CIA’s secret drone war there is instead going to be given a free pass for a year or more to blast away as it pleases — the White House equivalent of Monopoly’s get-out-of-jail-free card.
The drone strikes, after all, are perfectly “legal.” How do we know? Because the administration which produced that 50-page document (and similar memos) assures us that it’s so, even if they don’t care to fully reveal their reasoning, and because, truth be told, on such matters they can do whatever they want to do. It’s legal because they’ve increasingly become the ones who define legality.
It would, of course, be illegal for Canadians, Pakistanis, or Iranians to fly missile-armed drones over Minneapolis or New York, no less take out their versions of bad guys in the process. That would, among other things, be a breach of American sovereignty. The U.S. can, however, do more or less what it wants when and where it wants. The reason: it has established, to the satisfaction of our national security managers — and they have the secret legal documents (written by themselves) to prove it — that U.S. drones can cross national boundaries just about anywhere if the bad guys are, in their opinion, bad enough. And that’s “the law”!
As with our distant wars, most Americans are remarkably unaffected in any direct way by the lockdown of this country. And yet in a post-legal drone world of perpetual “wartime,” in which fantasies of disaster outrace far more realistic dangers and fears, sooner or later the bin Laden tax will take its toll, the chickens will come home to roost, and they will be able to do anything in our name (without even worrying about producing secret legal memos to justify their acts). By then, we’ll be completely locked down and the key thrown away.