accountability...? rule of law...? pish-tosh...
Is the Libyan war legal? Was Bin Laden’s killing legal? Is it legal for the president of the United States to target an American citizen for assassination? Were those “enhanced interrogation techniques” legal? These are all questions raised in recent weeks. Each seems to call out for debate, for answers. Or does it?and yet we still preach rule of law, accountability, due process and all the other trappings of a constitutional state to nations around the world... so sad...
Here is the reality of post-legal America: since the attacks of September 11, 2001, the National Security Complex has engorged itself on American fears and grown at a remarkable pace. According to Top Secret America, a Washington Post series written in mid-2010, 854,000 people have “top secret” security clearances, “33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work are under construction or have been built since September 2001... 51 federal organizations and military commands, operating in 15 U.S. cities, track the flow of money to and from terrorist networks... [and] some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security, and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States.”
Just stop a moment to take that in. And then let this sink in as well: whatever any one of those employees does inside that national security world, no matter how “illegal” the act, it’s a double-your-money bet that he or she will never be prosecuted for it (unless it happens to involve letting Americans know something about just how they are being “protected”).
Consider what it means to have a U.S. Intelligence Community (as it likes to call itself) made up of 17 different agencies and organizations, a total that doesn’t even include all the smaller intelligence offices in the National Security Complex, which for almost 10 years proved incapable of locating its global enemy number one. Yet, as everyone now agrees, that man was living in something like plain sight, exchanging messages with and seeing colleagues in a military and resort town near Islamabad, the Pakistani capital. And what does it mean that, when he was finally killed, it was celebrated as a vast intelligence victory?
The Intelligence Community with its $80 billion-plus budget, the National Security Complex, including the Pentagon and that post-9/11 creation, the Department of Homeland Security, with its $1.2 trillion-plus budget, and the imperial executive have thrived in these years. They have all expanded their powers and prerogatives based largely on the claim that they are protecting the American people from potential harm from terrorists out to destroy our world.
Above all, however, they seem to have honed a single skill: the ability to protect themselves, as well as the lobbyists and corporate entities that feed off them. They have increased their funds and powers, even as they enveloped their institutions in a penumbra of secrecy. The power of this complex of institutions is still on the rise, even as the power and wealth of the country it protects is visibly in decline.
Now, consider again the question “Is it legal?” When it comes to any act of the National Security Complex, it’s obviously inapplicable in a land where the rule of law no longer applies to everyone. If you are a ordinary citizen, of course, it applies to you, but not if you are part of the state apparatus that officially protects you. The institutional momentum behind this development is simple enough to demonstrate: it hardly mattered that, after George W. Bush took off those gloves, the next president elected was a former constitutional law professor.
Think of the National Security Complex as the King George of the present moment. In the areas that matter to that complex, Congress has ever less power and, as in the case of the war in Libya or the Patriot Act, is ever more ready to cede what power it has left.
So democracy? The people’s representatives? How quaint in a world in which our real rulers are unelected, shielded by secrecy, and supported by a carefully nurtured, almost religious attitude toward security and the U.S. military.
Labels: accountability, due process, extrajudicial executions, National Security State, Patriot Act, post-legal America, rule of law
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