Every time the subject of overseas troop deployments arises, politicians invariably rush to the microphones to express their gratitude at the troops for protecting our freedoms, as if some towel-headed Taliban warlord living in a cave in Afghanistan presents a viable threat to American civil liberties. 

Ironically, it turns out that he does.  Not directly, of course.  Instead, the Taliban, by allowing al Qaeda to headquarter its terrorist organization in Afghanistan and thereby help initiate the amorphous War on Terror in the US, provided the cover for the US government to severely restrict its citizen’s freedoms.   Instead of protecting our freedoms, the troops stationed on the vanguards of empire have become the very excuse used to curtail them. 

Jonathan Turley, a professor of public interest law at George Washington University, explains how little of those cherished freedoms enshrined in our founding documents still exist only a decade after the mainly non-consequential terrorist attacks of 9/11.  His article, published in the Washington Post and titled, Ten Reasons the US is No Longer the Land of the Free, succinctly and dispassionately explains that the US is perhaps as autocratic in structure, if not yet perhaps practice, as any autocratic regime (e.g., Hussein’s Iraq, the Soviet Union, China under communism, etc.) in history. 

The article is a quick, but chilling read.  I highly recommend it.  No one knows for sure what the consequences will ultimately be for the American people having forsaken their hard-fought liberties at the behest of their fear-peddling government.   But history tells us that rarely are rights, once forsaken, ever recovered, except through the violent overthrow of regimes claiming them.  And power is rarely left unexercised, contrary to President Obama’s promise when signing the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 that made legal the indefinite detention of US citizens by the US military on US soil without benefit of trial or probable cause or the writ of habeas corpus.   Perhaps Obama will do as promised and refuse to exercise the power afforded the government in NDAA 2012, but nothing in his record points to any such self-restraint.  And what’s the likelihood his successors would refuse to use such powers?

Thus, it is only a matter of time until the powers acquiesced to the government by the people are then turned on the people.  Today’s terrorists will be tomorrow’s Tea Partiers or Occupy Wall Streeters.  Just because it seems clear today that the bad guys are mostly from Arabia, without constitutional restraint, the government gets to determine whom is bad and good, and from the government’s perspective, “bad” will always mean anyone that threatens its power.  With the government able now to oppress its own citizens in the protection of its now expanded power, eventually, that is exactly what it will do.  The founding fathers well understood that it is in the nature of governments to always seek expansions in power;  restraining the impulse was the whole point behind the Bill of Rights and the constitutional protections afforded the writ of habeas corpus.  Here’s Turley’s explanation:

An authoritarian nation is defined not just by the use of authoritarian powers, but by the ability to use them. If a president can take away your freedom or your life on his own authority, all rights become little more than a discretionary grant subject to executive will.

The framers lived under autocratic rule and understood this danger better than we do. James Madison famously warned that we needed a system that did not depend on the good intentions or motivations of our rulers: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”

Benjamin Franklin was more direct. In 1787, a Mrs. Powel confronted Franklin after the signing of the Constitution and asked, “Well, Doctor, what have we got — a republic or a monarchy?” His response was a bit chilling: “A republic, Madam, if you can keep it.”

Since 9/11, we have created the very government the framers feared: a government with sweeping and largely unchecked powers resting on the hope that they will be used wisely.

Perhaps this is the “hope” upon which Obama campaigned:  The hope that if we allow the government sweeping, unfettered powers, it will wield them wisely. 

Yet real hope depends on that other of his campaign bromides:  Change.  If the US is to remain free its citizens must force governmental change.  They must learn to understand that governments peddling fear do so to expand the reach and breadth of their power.  They must contain the government’s ability to contravene the social contract to which they agreed, and return to the people the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty by the due process of law; the right to a speedy trial, and the right to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.  Otherwise, if the aim of that Taliban warlord hiding out in an Afghanistan cave was to destroy the republic and the freedoms it represents, he needn’t do another thing.  He’s won already.