Keeping America & Americans Safe

Sunday, March 19, 2006 at 09:07 AM

Keeping America and Americans safe.  That's what George Bush, Dick Cheney, and their think-alikes claim is their first priority.  And that sure sounds good if you're an American living in an America where terrorists have flown massive, fuel-laden airplanes into populated buildings in two of the country's major cities.

Under those conditions, it's altogether too easy to get wrapped up in the external threats to the safety of America.  "Look over there" is the natural reaction to having been attacked by people from "there."

But step back from the immediate context for a moment and look at history.  Think about the countries that we've always considered the worst examples of tyranny:  Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, the Soviet Union, Communist China.  Who were the tyrants imposing misery on the citizens of those countries, the tyrants who spied, arrested, detained and tortured their citizens?  Not outsiders, but insiders.  Fellow citizens.

And what is the usual excuse for the tyranny?  The need to guard against that external threat.  We need to spy on you, control your movements, arrest and interrogate you, torture you if need be, in order to prevent them, over there, from taking over our country.

In America itself, what have been the most significant threats to our constitutional republic in recent times?  People demonstrating against some government policy, in full view of the public, unmasked and open to scrutiny?  Or the government itself, operating behind the scenes, in darkness, with the full reach and power of the federal government directed against its own citizens?  Think about Nixon's spying on and burglarizing his enemies, perverting the process of law that attempted to investigate these wrongdoings, and corrupting the government structure to rid himself of perceived enemies.  Or Oliver North and various officials of the Regan White House subverting the constitutional separation of powers to allow the executive branch to secretly fund and support foreign wars with the proceeds from equally illegal arms transactions with other enemies.  Note that some of those same Reagan officials have been resurrected by the Bush White House, including Elliot Abrams, John Negroponte, John Poindexter, and Otto Reich.

Nothing good grows in the darkness when tended by bureaucrats dedicated to their own purposes.  Not ever.  Not when "they" do it, and not when "we" do it.  Eventually, the bureaucrats equate their own interests with those of the country.  A threat to them becomes a threat to the country.  Don't deceive yourself that there's a big difference between secret military intelligence units overseas interrogating terror suspects out of sight of the courts and the Red Cross and secret police units right here interrogating terror suspects out of sight of the courts and everyone else.  It's a lot easier for me and you to get classified as "terror suspects" when no one is watching the process, when no one with any objectivity is ever examining whether that classification is justified.

Why should we insist on a full investigation of the NSA warrantless spying program?  To keep Americans safe.  Why should the White House not operate warrantless domestic spying programs, whether by NSA or any other agency?  To keep Americans safe.  Why should Alberto Gonzales not be allowed to sit in front of a congressional committee and essentially refuse to answer the only questions really relevant to the legality of a secret domestic spying program?  To keep Americans safe.

Demand an investigation. It's the only way to keep Americans safe.