Last week, I wrote up a post with several short and random items just listed out with some thoughts brought up by the NSA Surveillance leaks. I had a few ideas that I forgot to put in last time (and it would have made the post too long anyway), so here they are.
Egypt. Firstly, in the midst of continuing NSA leaks, and even the Director of National Intelligence admitting he lied under oath to Congress, is it wrong of me to be a little frustrated at Egypt right now? I mean, they’re taking up all of the news cycle coverage. Can’t we get a little time for a Constitutional crisis here? Stop stealing the spotlight.
(You too, Snowden, although I know it’s not all your fault.)
Law vs. Constitution. This is one I forgot to say last week. Everyone keeps wanting to stress that these surveillance and wiretapping programs were legal and law-abiding; that Congress and the Judiciary were fully aware of it.
Well, I already mentioned last week about the Judciary part of this, but as far as Congress goes, they’re right–it is indeed legal for the Executive branch to have been doing this stuff. But, there are two caveats to that.
First, the Executive branch looked at laws that were passed by Congress, mainly the FISA Act and the Patriot Act, and gave those laws to their lawyers and asked them how much lee-way it gave them. You can read those laws. They’re public, just like all laws should be, right? It’d be silly to have applicable laws that people didn’t know about so they wouldn’t know if they were breaking those laws, right?
Well, Barack Obama disagrees. The legal rationales and interpretations of those otherwise public laws are secret. We can’t know how Obama thinks he can apply these laws, or even how far we think he can use them. He’s kept them completely secret, out of the public eye, saying that they are a secret belonging to the State, and not the public.
Secondly, though something is legal doesn’t make it Constitutional. Every Supreme Court declaration of something being Unconstitutional is the Court looking at something that was otherwise allowed to happen, that the individuals believed they had the right to do within the law, but the Court says is out of bounds. Slavery, segregation, Obamacare, Super PACs, and abortion were/are all “legal”. Do all of you out there think they’re all Constitutional?
The problem here is that the Obama administration hasn’t let any cases against their surveillance powers get to the Supreme Court in the first place. They’ve either said that individuals have no right to bring a lawsuit because the programs are so secret that they can’t prove they’ve been spied upon, or they’ve said that they have the right to declare anything a “state secret” that can’t be revealed in court, and so to let the case go forward would “jeopardize national security”.
And so, the Constitutionality of these acts has not been decided at all, though Congress has secretly been approving them and declaring them, technically, “legal”.
Repeal the 4th Amendment! For all those for whom it’s been a while since Civics class, here’s the 4th Amendment:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
This is the Amendment that gives us our right to privacy. Reading the text, it seems pretty absolute, right? Reading the actual amendment, does any of this NSA Surveillance stuff seem to fit with it? Can any reasonable person say it does?
Now, a lot of people might read that and say, “yeah, I get it. But really, we’re in a different world, and we simply don’t care as much about our personal information as they did in the 18th-century. The threats are different; we’re different. As long as it doesn’t affect my everyday life, let the government keep me safe.”
If that’s genuinely your opinion, then I can respect that. But the fact still remains, that there is, then, this inconvenient Amendment that could unnecessarily hinder the government’s ability to do that. Luckily, the Founding Fathers also gave us a process to modify–er, amend–parts of the Constitution as necessary to reflect our changing circumstances.
And so, for all of you out there that are okay with what the government has been doing, would you be willing to repeal the 4th Amendment? If it’s dated or too restrictive, would you be up with putting something in its place? How do you think a legislator would be thought of if they tried to put that through? Would America go along with it? Why or why not?
In fact, the NSA, in a leaked memo, already was trying to encourage legislators to “rethink” the 4th Amendment, rather than actually follow the Constitutional route of actual repeal.
The militarization of terrorism. Okay this one is a little random, but on a more general note, I feel this is an aspect of the War on Terror that my generation doesn’t get.
For those of us that grew up in the 80s, don’t any of you remember how many airline bombings and hijackings there were? In fact, the 70s saw the greatest amount of terrorism we’ve ever seen. And yet, we didn’t have wars over this terrorism and the entire axis of foreign affairs and world events didn’t revolve around “terrorism”. Why?
Well, a huge reason is that, previously, terrorism was investigated and prosecuted as a crime, not an act of war. The FBI usually investigated terrorism, not the CIA nor the NSA. The military was not the primary tool in fighting terrorism. Some might say this was a weak policy to have in the first place (as Dick Cheney recently said) but, to a large extent, it prevented terrorism from becoming a legitimate political movement and seemingly legitimate alternative political philosophy contra the U.S.
Previously, it was simply seen as a crime that crazy people did, not a “real” political strategy.
“Militarizing” our fight against terrorism, in a sense, made Terrorism seem like our “equal”. Just as if we were fighting any other nation-state in the world. And so, if you disagreed with American foreign policy, then terrorism became an increasingly acceptable outlet to express that.
Further, with our own actions in the Middle East, we legitimized cross-border violence as a vehicle for political goals. Iraq showed nations without nuclear weapons to both seek those weapons faster while also supporting terrorism at increasingly levels of obscurity (ahem, Iran). With drone warfare, we legitimized the act of going after enemies by killing civilians in countries with which we were not at war.
Our drones tracked down and killed an American citizen, along with other civilians, in Yemen. Think about it. Are we at war with Yemen? What about Pakistan? And yet, we send military equipment (little planes, in fact. The irony is sickening) into their territory and kill their citizens to accomplish our political goals. (Hmm…that sounds familiar….)
It’s my full belief that we are a bigger target for terrorism now than we were prior to the “War on Terror”, and that’s why we’ve needed to increasingly erode our rights just to keep up with the increasing threat. By militarizing the fight, rather than “merely” prosecuting it, we’ve made violence, force, power, killing, and, indeed, terror, the primary, legitimate means by which things are accomplished by this nation, and around the world.
Happy July 4th!