So, great minds think alike, or something - found another disturbing-but-vitally-important piece by Glenn Greenwald on the destruction of the Rule of Law in the "War on Terror".
If you don't have time to read it all, just read the first few paragraphs, because in them Greenwald makes 2 vitally important points:
1. Greenwald's opening sentence:
A primary reason for opposing the acquisition of abusive powers and civil liberties erosions is that they virtually always become permanent, vested not only in current leaders one may love and trust but also future officials who seem more menacing and less benign.
Yes! I had more than a few conversations, years back with American Republicans and British Labour supporters who weren't entirely comfortable with the loss of traditional liberties that happened under Bush and Blair, but defended the governments basically on the grounds the "they're good guys, we can trust them. He/they (Bush/Blair or their ministers) aren't tyrants". Well, personally I'd say that the traditional British view, and the entire US Constitution, presume the truth of "Acton's Axiom" - "all power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely". But even if we assume that Blair and Bush were incorruptible... that's beside the point.
The point is, as Greenwald says, that history shows clearly that it is 100x easier to give up a right to a government than to get it back. Giving up traditional rights and legal guarantees, expanding government power over its citizens, is easy. All it takes is a few months of public fear and a government with a popular leader and a political majority. Getting them back... well, if you're lucky it takes a major political shift, the Margaret Thatcher 1980s, Tony Blair 1997+, Barack Obama 2008 - the once a couple of decades seismic political movements. If you're unlucky, it takes revolution and bloodshed.
So what that means, in practice, is that we should assume that any power aquired by this government, now will also belong to all future governments.
So the question you need to ask yourself is not "do I trust Barack Obama and his cabinet with this unnacountable power, do I trust David Cameron, Tony Blair, George Bush?" - whoever it is or was - but "do I trust the worst government I can imagine in this country with this power?"
2. The whole concept of a never-ending "War on Terror" empowers our governments to claim "war powers" indefinitely and forever - and this is not a good thing!
For centuries it has been recognised that when a country is at war, the "rules" change. Even the most civil libertarian of us generally admit that when the survival of the nation is at stake, some rules need to be bent. Our language is filled with phrases reflecting this concept - "War Powers" "State of Emergency", "For the duration..." and of course "Martial Law". But all of these phrases implicitely recognise that War is not the normal state of being, that is is exceptional, that these exceptions to the rules apply "for the duration of hostilities" and then things revert to normal.
Its true that through the second half of the 20th C a "state of war" has become less and less clearly defined, less definite. But through the 20th C, most of us could say when our countries were "at war" and when they weren't. Historians can debate when the Vietnam War started, but eveyone knows when the last troops pulled out, at least. But in the 21st Century, the concept of a "War on terror" has confused our ideas completely. How does one win a war on "terror"? I first became aware of how disturbing this concept was way back in about 2003, when I heard a Bush administration official taking questions on the Guatanamo prisoners. He was asked how long the US government intended to keep them imprisoned, and responded "for the duration of hostilities". But when do hostilities end in the "War on Terror"? Its like saying "we're suspending habeas corpus for the duration of the War on Drugs". Essentially it means "as long as the government likes".
If you still aren't sure what I'm getting at, ask yourself this question: when have we won the War on Terror? When Al-Queda surrenders? But AQ are not a nation state. They're not even a formally organized terrorist group with a command structure and a political front, like the Irish Republican Army in Britain, the Basque ETA or even the FARC or the Shining Path in South America. They are - as far as we know - a loose collection of "cells" around the world, bound together only by a common ideology and recognition of the leadership of (though not military obedience to) certain key leaders. A surrender by one of those cells or leaders means next to nothing. When there has been no successful terrorist attack for x years? But who chooses what the value of "x" is? Who says what counts as succesfull, or a "genuine threat"? Why, the government of course...
The sleight of hand that turned a campaign against a terror threat into a "war", almost without debate, has allowed our governments to claim authority that used to be reserved for very specific, limited circumstances - every day until they chose to give it up.