Matt Taibbi: “I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t see this ending well.”

Taibbi parses the subtleties of the language of the infamous section of the NDAA that in one smooth move, codifies the lock up of this country into a police state. Perhaps, like me, he had not seen the video that shows Carl Levin saying that it was the administration itself that asked for the language that is currently in the bill.

P.S. Despite what this video shows, I would still — still! — like to see Obama as a good guy in a den of snakes. Like to think that there is some kind of explanation for what’s going on that will shift my perception of what appears to be happening. Until then, we do need to follow all the links at the end of the video and act on them.

Taibbi thanks to

Pointer to youtube video thanks to

Indefinite Detention of American Citizens: Coming Soon to Battlefield U.S.A.

December 9, 2011

mccain graham

John McCain and Lindsey Graham are among the senators pushing a provision to make the homeland “part of the battlefield,” allowing the government to detain U.S. citizens indefinitely.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

There’s some disturbing rhetoric flying around in the debate over the National Defense Authorization Act, which among other things contains passages that a) officially codify the already-accepted practice of indefinite detention of “terrorist” suspects, and b) transfer the responsibility for such detentions exclusively to the military.

The fact that there’s been only some muted public uproar about this provision (which, disturbingly enough, is the creature of Wall Street anti-corruption good guy Carl Levin, along with John McCain) is mildly surprising, given what’s been going on with the Occupy movement. Protesters in fact should be keenly interested in the potential applications of this provision, which essentially gives the executive branch unlimited powers to indefinitely detain terror suspects without trial.

The really galling thing is that this act specifically envisions American citizens falling under the authority of the bill. One of its supporters, the dependably-unlikeable Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, bragged that the law “basically says … for the first time that the homeland is part of the battlefield” and that people can be jailed without trial, be they “American citizen or not.” New Hampshire Republican Kelly Ayotte reiterated that “America is part of the battlefield.”

Officially speaking, of course, the bill only pertains to:

“… a person who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners.”

As Glenn Greenwald notes, the key passages here are “substantially supported” and “associated forces.” The Obama administration and various courts have already expanded their definition of terrorism to include groups with no connection to 9/11 (i.e. certain belligerents in Yemen and Somalia) and to individuals who are not members of the target terror groups, but merely provided “substantial support.”

The definitions, then, are, for the authorities, conveniently fungible. They may use indefinite detention against anyone who “substantially supports” terror against the United States, and it looks an awful lot like they have leeway in defining not only what constitutes “substantial” and “support,” but even what “terror” is. Is a terrorist under this law necessarily a member of al-Qaeda or the Taliban? Or is it merely someone who is “engaged in hostilities against the United States”?

Here’s where I think we’re in very dangerous territory. We have two very different but similarly large protest movements going on right now in the Tea Party and the Occupy Movement. What if one of them is linked to a violent act? What if a bomb goes off in a police station in Oakland, or an IRS office in Texas? What if the FBI then linked those acts to Occupy or the Tea Party?

You can see where this is going. When protesters on the left first started flipping out about George Bush’s indefinite detention and rendition policies, most people thought the idea that these practices might someday be used against ordinary Americans was merely an academic concern, something theoretical.

But it’s real now. If these laws are passed, we would be forced to rely upon the discretion of a demonstrably corrupt and consistently idiotic government to not use these awful powers to strike back at legitimate domestic unrest.

Right now, the Senate is openly taking aim at the rights of American citizens under the guise of an argument that anyone who supports al-Qaeda has no rights. But if you pay close attention, you’ll notice the law’s supporters here and there conveniently leaving out those caveats about “anyone who supports al-Qaeda.” For instance, here’s Lindsey Graham again:

“If you’re an American citizen and you betray your country, you’re not going to be given a lawyer … I believe our military should be deeply involved in fighting these guys at home or abroad.”

As Greenwald points out, this idea – that an American who commits treason can be detained without due process – is in direct defiance of Article III, Section III of the Constitution, which reads:

“No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.”

This effort to eat away at the rights of the accused was originally gradual, but to me it looks like that process is accelerating. It began in the Bush years with a nebulous description of terrorist sedition that may or may not have included links to Sunni extremist groups in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan.

But words like “associated” and “substantial” and “betray” have crept into the discussion, and now it feels like the definition of a terrorist is anyone who crosses some sort of steadily-advancing invisible line in their opposition to the current government.

This confusion about the definition of terrorism comes at a time when the economy is terrible, the domestic government is more unpopular than ever, and there is quite a lot of radical and even revolutionary political agitation going on right here at home. There are people out there – I’ve met some of them, in both the Occupy and Tea Party movements – who think that the entire American political system needs to be overthrown, or at least reconfigured, in order for progress to be made.

It sounds paranoid and nuts to think that those people might be arrested and whisked away to indefinite, lawyerless detention by the military, but remember: This isn’t about what’s logical, it’s about what’s going on in the brains of people like Lindsey Graham and John McCain.

At what point do those luminaries start equating al-Qaeda supporters with, say, radical anti-capitalists in the Occupy movement? What exactly is the difference between such groups in the minds (excuse me, in what passes for the minds) of the people who run this country?

That difference seems to be getting smaller and smaller all the time, and such niceties as American citizenship and the legal tradition of due process seem to be less and less meaningful to the people who run things in America.

What does seem real to them is this “battlefield earth” vision of the world, in which they are behind one set of lines and an increasingly enormous group of other people is on the other side.

Here’s another way to ask the question: On which side of the societal fence do you think the McCains and Grahams would put, say, an unemployed American plumber who refused an eviction order from Bank of America and holed up with his family in his Florida house, refusing to move? Would Graham/McCain consider that person to have the same rights as Lloyd Blankfein, or is that plumber closer, in their eyes, to being like the young Muslim who throws a rock at a U.S. embassy in Yemen?

A few years ago, that would have sounded like a hysterical question. But it just doesn’t seem that crazy anymore. We’re turning into a kind of sci-fi society in which making it and being a success not only means getting rich, but also means winning the full rights of citizenship. I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t see this ending well.

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3 Responses to Matt Taibbi: “I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t see this ending well.”

  1. Pamela says:

    Can you say McCarthyism?

  2. claudia kimball says:

    Now, who was he that said that if America were to be
    conquered, it would come from within. We still have
    not found a way to include within the colloquial definition
    of terrorism intentions and actions that do not include
    overt violence. This word choice when someone came
    up with “War on Terror” was ambiguous and imprecise
    for such an activity. We couldn’t declare a real enemy.
    It was a moving target that was wanted it seems.
    Fear was created to pursue a moveable feasting.
    I believe that we need to insist on more precise language
    to describe realities legislated by us and for us.
    An act of violence by a person is a crime not an act of war.
    The rational for the action or actions needs to be disputed
    in our courts of law as we have all agreed historically.
    Do we still have courts of Law?
    Let’s stop using these amorphous slogans such as
    War on Terror and The American Dream (which seems
    to be put forth in economic terms only).
    These ways of using language are being used against the people.
    By whom? I think we know.
    What faction is it that would like to restructure the foundation
    of thought that generations of people have worked to achieve.
    Has too much power attracted those whose motivation
    is power only?
    What is treason? It seems like nobody mentions this word.
    McCarthy did, but then we had Communism and the Russian
    people to go after.

  3. Senator McCain and I flew in Vietnam over the same era. We share some emotional understandings. His sufferings are ear marked by his personal experiences of being physically and mentally tortured…not the sort of soul exposure we typically choose. He created for himself a mental survival-path, a classical hero’s path, of which even he may not yet understand the implications. The hero’s path is a deep, complex archetypal struggle which either ends in victory or suffering defeat in the short run. My limited intuition suggests spiritual healing has not yet seemed to occurred in the psyche of my old flying comrade. He has publicly expressed he has not yet forgiven his assigned personal daemon, his torturer, during his captivity. What he probably can not yet realize is how much joy will flow into his heart, how his life will be transformed as he let’s go of this last important shadow to his own liberation.

    I’ve come to give a lot of weight to the “feminine intuitive” many men share with our women folk. The older I become, the more I seem to rely on it.

    Our corporate-run Government likes to conveniently lable a trespass or political resistance as “potential terrorist,” or “potential terrorist resource.” It’s good for business after all. I’ve even seen Home Land Security post a scathing article of a national hero who goes by the online name of “Dutchsinse.” They blogged Dutch out like an FBI Most Wanted poster for gosh sake, for no reason other than Dutch was showing people how to interpret weather and use public weather-radar sites and thus blowing cover on secret government weather manipulation conspiracy with the UN known as “Control The Weather by 2025.”
    Some anonymous Air Force General’s wife got her panties in a twist when her old man came home and apparently blabbed to her about Dutch causing people to not trust their government. Um — I don’t trust government either, and that was long before hearing about Dutch. So many people (Dutch has over 5-million viewers) came to Dutch’s defense including me, that Home Land Security relented and took the General’s wife complaint letter off their Home Land Security blog.

    Homeland has an open breach in their website that accidentally lets you see all its correspondence. Every letter sent in on Dutch by us viewers was an expression of support for Dutch and outrage at Home Land Security’s bone-headed blatant political abuse of its power. I’ve never reported their breach till now. The good news is, there may still be a heart beat in this agency of government.

    This isn’t the government my generation or my father’s generation knew. Somewhere it has misplaced its soul and grown bloated with fiefdoms. Specifically this is a Government of fear that seems to have forgotten it’s purpose.

    We must guide this confused and fearful giant of government to confront its own daemons. It has grown so complex it fears everything.

    I tried to place this post on the website of Homeland Security public information forum to shock it once more to remember its duty, but could not seem to get the page to receive comments.

    “We should be building a global, indestructible internet infrastructure with unbreakable links that would allow the civilian world to communicate unhampered even in the midst of political and/or violent revolutions — domestic or foreign.
    “The lack of trust in government held by the citizenry at large is in no small part a reflection of the fear embodied in all that you do as a lead “security agency.” The fear extends both ways, your fear of the people, and the people’s fear of you.
    “One of the best ways to rebuild trust, especially if we are to ever recapture a softened tone of political discourse, is to ensure the people that they matter more than their government, that government is ultimately here to serve the people rather than the people here to protect the government.
    “The powers being vested in the executive branch to shut down the internet or selected portions thereof, the power to hold anyone labeled even “potential” are unacceptable powers and testify to the legitimate fear of the people to not trust in the processes of government outside their own ability to self administer in times of national emergencies.”

    Similar expressions need to be planted in the gardens of the stone deaf chambers throughout Washington in hopes that the might give pause to my old friend McCain, where a difference would be made.

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