Thursday, December 15, 2011

[Sociology] Civil Liberties

The most disturbing recent news I've read was not actually about the Euro. It also wasn't about Iran/Israel or a Chinese recession. It was about Mr. Obama's ability to imprison me indefinitely or even kill me. Just because he desires so.

Now, I'm usually a supporter of the current US president. He just makes a lot of sense to me. But then I realized some time ago that the Unites States reserve - and regularly execute - the right to kill anybody on this planet (including US citizen), who is not currently in the US, by decision of the government alone. I guess they call that lean and effective government as in contrast to checks and balances which make for big and expensive government.

Now, in my case I have the hope that this would cause some diplomatic trouble with Germany. But since Germany is just Germany at this point and not Europe, that would hardly deter Mr. Obama. The US already put a guy from Bremen into Guantanamo a few years ago. The German government complained. The US laughed. Five years later the guy was set free. He was innocent. US didn't even apologize because, you know, shit happens.

I guess that is just the way things are if you are the head of the only remaining super power with a GDP about three times as large as that of the next big political player and a military spending lobby that easily beats any banana republic.

But what if I were a US citizen and also in the US right now? Well, in that case Mr. Obama would be in trouble as his executive power (literally) would be kept in check by an applied constitution (as in contrast to a not-applied one). Lately, Congress decided to close this loophole. Under the new law every US citizen in the US (the rest is fair game, anyway) could be detained until the end of the hostilities; that is until the end of the war on terror. Yeah, right: it might be funny if it wasn't so sad.

I know what you're thinking at this point. I'm overreacting. First, you say, I would have to be suspected of terrorism. And secondly, why would the president want to detain innocent people anyway?

Well, there are these abstract arguments. For example, the idea that if the only difference between a dictator who can kill a 'voter' and the US president, is the actual person and not the system, there's not that much of a difference.

But I guess the more convincing argument is that me, Nils, obviously am not a terrorist.

Well, I like to think that. But then what I think is irrelevant. What counts is what the president - or those acting in his name - think. And what would they think if I had a friend with the wrong skin color - you know Arabic-like skin color?!
And what if this friend introduced me to a (facebook ?) friend who, a year later, turns out to be a terrorist? (That means he is officially part of a group who has probably the goal to kill US citizen - if you plan to kill non-US citizen you are not really a terrorist).

Now, that would certainly make me a suspicious subject. And that means that the president and all those acting in his name could imprison me - until the end of the war on terror. No lawyer for me. No judge. 20 years? 40 years? 60 years?
And the longer I am imprisoned the more suspicious I become! First, because after having been detained for a long time I would certainly hate the US (correct) and had nowhere else to go but to join others like me to get my revenge. God forbid that I actually became friends with one of the other detainees - instead of looking at a wall 24 hours a day. And second, because few people are as suspicious as those who are detained under the charge of being a terrorist.

More interesting than to detain me, is of course, to detain the leader of the opposition. Let's assume Mr. Obama finally shows his true self: a radical socialist with the aim to finally create real communism. Unfortunately time for change is running out and Mr. Gingrich might win the elections.

Here's the solution. First, you send a few people into the Moslem world (the other side of the planet, the dark one). There you capture somebody who really looks like a die-hard terrorist. You know, long beard, just the right skin color. Maybe missing a finger from experimenting with explosives. Really small eyes. (The finger can actually be removed later on).

Second, you torture him or use extensive interrogation practices (whatever works best) until he admits that Mr. Gingrich plans a terroristic act, like poisoning water supplies. Next, you put a few suspicious things into Gingrich's house. That's not really necessary, but it does help speed things up. Finally you put the whole confession on television.

Nobody at this point could deny that Mr. Gingrich is suspicious. And suspicion is enough! No judges, no court hearings, no lawyers, no trial. Bye bye Mr. Gingrich, I think you'd be a bad president, but I don't actually think you're a terrorist (well - not until I see the confession of that other "terrorist" on TV, anyway).

But of course this won't happen and I, personally, certainly don't need to worry. Since I am not a US citizen I would rather be killed than imprisoned indefinitely. In a way I'd actually prefer that. But suspicious I am certainly at this point. After all I have just written a post that hampers US's capability to imprison terrorists. Even worse, this post actually harms US interests all over the world! I even threatened to kill US citizen should I ever have been detained for any period of time, didn't I? Let's see how well I am received when I next visit my sister.

One last thing: the president vetoed the law. For strange reasons, but still.

Good links on the subject:
Jon Steward and Aljazeera


  1. God help everyone if Newt wins. We'll be bombing Iran and detaining more US citizens by year's end.

  2. I'm a vegetarian for ethical reasons. I've been to animal rights marches and protests. I know that MI5 (our secret police) monitors people like me.

    Also they monitor people who lobby for civil liberties as those people are natural enemies of secret police.

    So when you say you're not a terrorist, you may still be someone who is perceived as an enemy by your country's security services or by the CIA.

    As we move forward into economic turmoil it's absolutely essential that normal everyday citizens defend human rights. They can so easily be eroded and in times of difficulty other issues may seem more important.

  3. The current situation is clearly bad. But sometime bad is the least worst alternative.

    This seems a bit strident to my sensibilities. Your life is in serious danger if the Massad decides you are an enemy. Same for cell leaders in dozens of terrorist organizations. There are many religious leaders whose pronoucements can impact citizens of other countires (e.g. British authors or Dutch cartoonists.) Adding a vindictive Obama to the mix of people who can target you without external contstraints does not seem like that big of an increase.

    For several decades, Americans elected a leader with the understanding that in the space of 10-20 minutes, they could be called upon to decide on whther to effectively end the human race. No declaration of war; no constitution, no UN, just "Mr President, we have incomeing, do we launch?" IMO, when you give a single individual that much power, some of the nuances and constraints don't seem quite as important. As important as the rule of law is, it's hard to justify that we trust the president to decide whether to end the species but we don't trust him to decide how many German bloggers to imprision?

    Is it that outlandish to expect that with ukranian nuclear material, Iran, biological, etc that a MWD may be used in your lifetime? It could happen in Tel Aviv, Paris or London, but would probably be in the USA. Regardless of where it hits, the amount of detaining and retaliation would dwarf the current efforts.

    /troll Alas Azuriel, it will be mid-January 2013 before Newt would be able to begin.

  4. Maybe we can only have the rights that our society as a whole has earned:- We couldn't spend £millions catching and incarcerating the Yorkshire Ripper, if a large proportion of the population of Britain were rippers. In that case, only draconian restriction to civil liberties and mass surveillance would have any chance of preventing sex attacks. And that also seems to be why our attempts to impose democracy on middle eastern countries has been such a failure - there is just too much criminality and sectarianism in those countries for regimes that allow extensive civil liberties. And since the western democracies are also a part of the world and can't easily isolate themselves from it, then some of the measures necessary in other areas of the world must inevitably be adopted here - if that is we wish to protect Sally Bowl's novelists & cartoonists.

  5. Something which some of you seem to be missing: there's a world of difference between being in danger because a terrorist organization somewhere in the world decides to kill you and YOUR OWN GOVERNMENT doing the same thing.

    The difference is that this second mechanism, when put into place, can be easily abused to turn the democracy into a dictatorship, simply by eliminating the opposition, an example which Nils clearly explained.
    It's the same reasoning behind the massive deployment of surveillance cameras: do you REALLY want an extremist politician to have access to an extensive surveillance network, and add to it laws which allow him to take anyone out of circulations, no questions asked?

    Many constitutions contain text which is just a safeguard to ensure that the democracy which was put into place cannot be easily removed or subverted. When reading about a new law, the question is not if the current leader/party will abuse it, but if anyone in the future can abuse it.

    Side note on the war on terror: I really liked the BBC's "The power of nightmares" documentary, apart from the details, I find the idea that politics has shifted from providing a vision to protecting from unspeakable terrors has value.

  6. ....don't worry Nils, - you can always apply for political asylum at our door. I'll put a good word in for you. ;)

    You don't happen to be a little famous, outside your blog, maybe a rockstar or movie director? that might help considerably.


    LOL are you serious. monitor for what?
    and then the US wonder where their money is going.

  7. Nils, normally you are pretty fair in presenting your arguments. But this line is way out of bounds.

    if you plan to kill non-US citizen you are not really a terrorist

    Look at how the US classified the Madrid bombings, plus attacks in India, Germany, Bali and many other places around the world. No this is just hyperbole on your part.

    Now here the ironic part. i most agree with you, since I'm part conservative and part libertarian. However, there is an issue when it comes to war. All POW's can be held till the end of a war. This is an established and accepted allowance.

    The problem here is that the US never officially declared war. The Jihadists have decalred war on the US and the US should have returned the favor. That would then make it 100% legal to hold all enemies till the end of the war. Yes there are differences between POW's and those held currently. But international law fully allows the captivity of enemy combatants and their supporters till hostilities officiall end.

    What the US is doing is wrong but could be fixed if a formal DOW is issued.

    Now having said that there is precedent for what the US has done based on how Jefferson fought the Barbery pirates from 1801-1805. The Pasha of Tripoli declared was agianst the US through their custon but not formally. The US congress gave aurthorization to Jefferson to defend US interests and protect US shipping by force.

    This is similiar to what is going on today. And under US laws this was the aurthority give to Bush by congress after the 9/11 attacks. And Obama (whom you know I'm against) used this same authority.

    As I said it is legal but in my opinion skirts the Consitution as a formal DOW should be declared and make it all legal.

  8. Meant the very last line to say:

    As I said it is legal but in my opinion skirts the Consitution as a formal DOW should be declared and make it all moral and compliant with the Constitution.

  9. List of people who would be monitored for "suspicious behavior" and possibly called a "terrorist" under the state of the current US government:

    George Washington
    Thomas Jefferson
    James Madison
    Benjamin Franklin
    Thomas Paine

    The issue is not about criminality as much as it is about methodically controlling people, their thoughts, and their liberties. When liberties are taken away it always starts as an "exception" to the rule in order to protect people. It slowly erodes from there until liberty itself becomes an "exception" to the rule.

    Those Who Sacrifice Liberty For Security Deserve Neither

  10. @Degrin called a "terrorist" under the state of the current US government:

    George Washington
    Thomas Jefferson
    James Madison
    Benjamin Franklin
    Thomas Paine

    Care to explain how they end up being called a terrorist?

    Long accepted standards support the detention and killing of its citizens if they are helping the enemy in times of war. Just read what President Lincoln signed into law.

    But as I said the key here is war. Congress and both Bush and Obama think that with the approval to use force they can pass laws such as these. If we had a formal DOW then there would be no question or issue on it. But the US does not have a formal DOW.

    So it is one thing to debate the legal aspects or even the moral aspects of 2012 NDAA. But to say that George Washington would be held is pretty silly and doesn't contribute to the atual debate. Unless you can explain in a logical and coherent manner how he would be held.

  11. Thanks for disagreeing, Goodmongo. Such a post would be very boring if everybody agreed ;)

    About the line you criticized. I exaggerated.

    About the 'legality' argument: If your country's legal system allowed infinite detention of citizens without trial - simply due to an order issued in the authoritarian executive branch of government then this would need to be changed.

    Furthermore, you are not at war. There was no declaration of war by any serious opponent and the amount of casualties since the US supposed declaration was minimal. There is no threat to the US citizen, let alone US army, except for an imaginary one. Ron Paul is correct and I don't say this lightly.

    Finally, Separation of Powers is a cornerstone of every democracy. If the survival of your democracy depends on the goodwill of the executive branch you are in trouble.

    Last but not least: Please try to make your point with less text. This is a comment section; it becomes hard to read if one person writes too much text. (Yeah, some readers might see some irony in me writing this :). I deleted your latest comment for this reason. sorry.

  12. @Goodmongo

    Sure, I can go into further detail if you like. However first off, I would like to add that truncating my statement takes away from its full meaning. I said only "possibly" labeled a terrorist. They would be flagged for increased scrutiny. Also, the original post is not about Declarations of War, it is about civil liberties. Additionally, unless I am mistaken, I don't think the debate was about legality but rather about ethics and principles. Which you know don't always match up.

    The list of people I displayed were all individuals that dissented against their government. Any type of dissent against our current government in the United States or the mere suspicion without valid proof would (under the WH's own admission) puts an individual under hightented scrutiny. For instance, many individuals (us citizens) have found GPS tracking devices planted on their vehicles after an FBI agent trespassed on their property to plant it there. The patriot act allows for wiretaps without a warrant of anyone labeled a threat to national security. However, many of them are not guilty of ANY crime other than "hanging with the wrong crowd" which we all know is not a crime.

    Dissent against ones government is healthy for any democracy and to many in that list was and is the ultimate form of patriotism. A certain amount of privacy is needed in order to carry out dissent. Do you think if the British had a GPS device on George Washington's white horse, or had secretly bugged many of their houses they would be able to carry out their fight for liberty?

    The question is actually a matter of semantics. What is a terrorist? It is never absolutely defined. In all definitions it is always up to an individual or small group to determine what a terrorist or a "threat to national security" is. Such a power in the hands of so small a group is quite dangerous to civil liberties in my opinion.

  13. Sorry for the long post Nils, didn't see your post until after I posted. I will try to shorten future comments.

  14. In my opinion, the length of your comment is ok, Degrin. It would be too long if you added another one now before anybody replied.

    I know, the balance is a bit difficult ...

  15. Let me try again. In 2004 a case before the US Supreme Court Hamdi v. Rumsfeld was about a US citizen (Hamdi) being held till the end of hostilities. The court said it was legal to do so. The court also tried to put a limit on the duration.

    My point is a formal DOW would statisfy this. But even the US Supreme Court has ruled that since COngress gave 'war power' authority to the president they can detail US citizens as enemy combatants.

  16. Sorry for the double post but I wanted to address a point that Degrin made.

    It has never been illegal to 'spy' on anyone including US citizens under the Constitution. What the government can't do is use that evidence against you in court. Most people don't realize this.

  17. "Those Who Sacrifice Liberty For Security Deserve Neither"

    Sounds nice, but in practice we always have to strike a balance between the two. We accept, for instance, restrictions on our right to carry firearms and knives in return for a somewhat reduced risk of getting shot or stabbed.

  18. You are correct, which is why the statement is often lengthened to say "Essential Liberty" for "Temporary Safety". (Different variations do exist) The idea (i hope) is to create a society where the need for laws that abridge liberty for the sake of security is kept at a minimum through good public policy and diplomacy.

  19. Finally, Separation of Powers is a cornerstone of every democracy. If the survival of your democracy depends on the goodwill of the executive branch you are in trouble.

    Nils, how is this US law (NDAA) a violation of the seperation of powers? The Congress under the legislative branch passed the law, the president under the executive branch is enforcing it and the SC or judicial branch will hear any legal cases brought against the law.

    There is no threat to the US citizen, let alone US army, except for an imaginary one.

    Huh? What about 9/11 and the continued loss of life in Afganistan. Not to mention 2008 Kandahar, 2009 Little Rock shooting, 2009 Northwest flight 253, 2009 Fort Hood attack and the 2010 cargo plane plot to name a few. Sounds like an ongoing battle to me.

    Point is I agree we are not officially at war. But you fail to realize that congress has indeed granted the use of force to fight terrorism whenever and where ever it is. This AUMF was voted on and passed on September 14, 2001 by 420-1 in the House and 98-0 in the Senate.

    Section 2 states:
    (a) IN GENERAL- That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.

  20. 1) Goodmongo, you don't understand what I am saying: I don't care whether this is legal or not. It is wrong.

    2) Just because all branches agree to violate separation of power doesn't mean that it isn't a violation. The new law would enable the executive to detain citizens indefinitely without being effected by the judiciary! Come on!

    3) The loss of life during the 'war on terror' on US side which happened on US ground (not fighting Taliban or Iraqis), is minimal. Yes, 9/11 was bad. But the probability to die to a terrorist attack in any year is lower than dying while walking over a street. It's neither a danger for any specific US citizen nor does it threaten your way of life in any way - unless you do away with your way of living on your own.

    The war on terror is fear mongering to get votes. Anybody who is even a bit skeptical of government should be appalled by this, in my opinion.

    Fun link about probabilities

  21. This comment has been removed by the author.

  22. Stop trolling ... my readers are too smart to be provoked anyway ;)

  23. Eh...thats like saying "How many people will die if they start smoking today? Zero...they will die from lung cancer 30 years later."

  24. Degrin, *sigh*.

    Goodmongo has missed several good opportunities to turn my/others' arguments for global warming against me/them. ;)
    But this will not turn into a global warming thread, sorry.