Sunday, January 15, 2012

Is America free?

Jonathan Turley has a piece in the Washington post offering ten reasons why America is no longer a free country. (I'm sorry if the link is behind a paywall.) His list:

1.  New presidential powers to assassinate Americans
2.  Indefinite detention
3.  Arbitrary justice (the president can decide whether someone receives a trial in a federal court or a military tribunal)
4.  Warrantless searches
5.  Secret evidence
"Even legal opinions, cited as the basis for the government’s actions under the Bush and Obama administrations, have been classified. This allows the government to claim secret legal arguments to support secret proceedings using secret evidence."
6.  War crimes (alleged war crimes of the Bush administration and the refusal of the Obama administration to investigate and try Bush administration officials, in violation of international law)
7.  The secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, with its secret warrants and secret searches
8.  Granting immunity from judicial review for companies who aid in warrantless surveillance
9.  Warrantless GPS monitoring of citizens
10. Extraordinary rendition (outsourcing justice to countries with more ... flexible justice systems

None of this is probably new to anyone who reads my blog or follows me on the Google +, but Turley has summed up the authoritarian aspects of the national security apparatus very well. He also compares the items on his list with the situation in other countries commonly accepted as authoritarian.

I don't like the phrasing of the question "Is America no longer free?" because that threatens to get the discussion stuck in the quagmire of people arguing back and forth that for women, blacks, and most minorities, liberty has obviously expanded since even fifty years ago. That's an important conversation, but it can cloud the issue too.

I've talked before about the trouble with the instinctive reflex to define America as free. What I wonder is if there is any kind of strategic or rhetorical upshot to coming out and declaring America is not free (whether or not it ever has been in the past). Does it matter at all to the argument? Are people more or less likely to take civil libertarians seriously if they describe America as authoritarian? Could the shock value of hearing that frank description (perhaps over many conversations and articles) perhaps jolt people into examining their assumptions?

Or will hearing this description close more minds to civil libertarian arguments? Does describing America as unfree or authoritarian violate the patriotism many people feel and feel is very important? Could it cause people to view the civil libertarian as a member of an out-group because he or she is seen to be casting aspersions on the big American in-group?

I just don't know!

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