The Shackles of Citizenry: Guilty In Any Land

faceless manQuaint, quaint, quaint…the good old days. Imagine a time when being an American citizen was justifiably a dream of humans from all over the world.  This was the great experiment in democracy and finally, eventually, in the inclusive idea of civil liberties; and it still feels that way sometimes as we continue to fight for equal treatment for our minority populations: think of the continuing struggle for gay rights and the majority of the population that believes in equal rights for ALL citizens under the law.

Now, it appears that this equality has actually come to pass.  It’s just that it turns out to be a nightmare instead of a dream.  We are all literally now Joseph K.

Someone must have been telling lies about Josef K., he knew he had done nothing wrong but, one morning, he was arrested.

We are now all equally under criminal investigation and equally liable to be murdered; we are all now equally guilty under our expanding militarized state powers.  The “war on terror” is simply now a war on all citizens as anyone and everyone is now culpable.

Now being a citizen is a negative that we carry with us not just within our borders, but in foreign lands as well. Some examples that are ready to hand.

Greenwald offers this glimpse into our paramilitary future:

Tampa is the site of the 2012 Republican National Convention, and the city is considering the purchase of large amounts of paramilitary weaponry to control crowds and possible protests, including “two ‘unmanned aerial vehicles’ that could hover for 20 minutes, fly in 20-knot winds and carry cameras with zoom lenses or thermal imaging capabilities.”  Nothing is more ahistorical and naive than the view that you can vest the government with a whole slew of powers in the name of Terrorism and expect that it will be confined to that realm.

I think I’ve told the following story to several of my friends over the last few years: my former employer was headquartered in DC and on a trip there, while in a cab to or from the airport I heard a local call-in show.  The topic was, I think, crime and gang violence and the guest on the show was the DC Chief of Police.  A caller asked if the police might use drones to target and eliminate gang leaders just like the military was doing with terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan (not yet Yemen to my knowledge).  The host was horrified and said, “Not in my America!” and the Chief laughed and said that they were constrained by law to presume the innocence of all citizens and that a drone strike seemed a clear violation of our constitutional rights to due process.

Umm…that appears to be pretty much a “quaint” way to conceive of civil liberties at present.  We torture our citizens already: I’m sure you’ve heard of Super Max prisons, right?  This is basically solitary confinement which has been condemned by the Red Cross and many other International organizations, such as Amnesty International, as torture.   And we have in fact already used drones to murder suspected criminals without due process or trial.  So, what makes you think “it can’t happen here”?

If you honestly don’t think so, you are incredibly naive.  Even if you are a card carrying NRA member who gives thousands of dollars to the political machine, you’ve still got to be very wary of our current trend towards promoting military aggression against our own citizens.

We do have a right to peaceful assembly and protest.  Already we have violated this right by creating “free speech” zones (it’s ALL supposed to be a free speech zone, people, ALL OF IT)  wherein we herd peaceful protesters into pens and guard them with weapons.

The legal protections for “private property” actually work against free speech especially if that property interest requests protection from the state.

We are already way down the rabbit hole on this one.

But it keeps getting worse.  Errant contributor Photine Liakos sent me this story  by Radley Balko at the Huffington Post about the global application of US drug laws that has just passed the House Judiciary Committee (“U.S. Drug Policy Would Be Imposed Globally By New House Bill“):

…that would make it a federal crime for U.S. residents to discuss or plan activities on foreign soil that, if carried out in the U.S., would violate the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) — even if the planned activities are legal in the countries where they’re carried out. The new law, sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) allows prosecutors to bring conspiracy charges against anyone who discusses, plans or advises someone else to engage in any activity that violates the CSA, the massive federal law that prohibits drugs like marijuana and strictly regulates prescription medication.

“Under this bill, if a young couple plans a wedding in Amsterdam, and as part of the wedding, they plan to buy the bridal party some marijuana, they would be subject to prosecution,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, which advocates for reforming the country’s drug laws. “The strange thing is that the purchase of and smoking the marijuana while you’re there wouldn’t be illegal. But this law would make planning the wedding from the U.S

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The law could also potentially affect academics and medical professionals….If interpreted broadly enough, a prosecutor could possibly even charge doctors, academics and policymakers from contributing their expertise to additional experiments like the drug decriminalization project Portugal, which has successfully reduced drug crime, addiction and overdose deaths.

I’ve highlighted the key phrase above.  Civil libertarian attorney and author Harvey Silverglate tells Balko:

The Smith bill breaks new ground.  “I don’t see any interest other than to a desire to impose our moral and cultural preferences on the rest of the world.”

This in itself seems a willfully naive way to think about this.

The goal of all of these polices is NOT to impose “moral and cultural preferences” but to broaden criminalization and give the Surveillance State still more power. What does this do but continue to limit your freedom and make every action you even think about plausibly a conspiracy to commit a crime?

This is very nearly a perfect example of criminalizing thought.  And if you’re a US Citizen, your thoughts are criminal no matter what country in which you happen to be doing your thinking.

There was a time, not so long ago, when being a citizen protected you against the “whims” of foreign laws when in foreign lands; now you might need to apply to more civilized governments for protection against the designation of US citizen.


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