So, I was wondering whether to write another post on the Rule of Law, following the revelation that the Obama Administration is now adding "demanding the phone records of 10s of millions of random Americans" to its list of egregious outrages ... when I came across this. Since it sums up pretty much everything I've been trying to say in my several posts on this subject, and does so clearly, succinctly and passionately, my only problem with it is envy that I didn't write it myself.
Conor Friedersdorf writes at The Atlantic:
Let's assume that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, their staffers, and every member of Congress for the last dozen years has always acted with pure motives in the realm of national security. Say they've used the power they've claimed, the technology they've developed, and the precedents they've established exclusively to fight al-Qaeda terrorists intent on killing us, that they've succeeded in disrupting what would've been successful attacks, and that Americans are lucky to have had men and women so moral, prudent, and incorruptible in charge.
Few Americans believe all of that to be so. Combining the people who didn't trust Bush and the ones who don't trust Obama adds up to a sizable part of the citizenry. But even if all the critics were proved wrong, even if the CIA, NSA, FBI, and every other branch of the federal government had been improbably filled, top to bottom, with incorruptible patriots constitutionally incapable of wrongdoing, this would still be so: The American people have no idea who the president will be in 2017. Nor do we know who'll sit on key Senate oversight committees, who will head the various national-security agencies, or whether the moral character of the people doing so, individually or in aggregate, will more closely resemble George Washington, Woodrow Wilson, FDR, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, John Yoo, or Vladimir Putin.
What we know is that the people in charge will possess the capacity to be tyrants -- to use power oppressively and unjustly -- to a degree that Americans in 1960, 1970, 1980, 1990, or 2000 could've scarcely imagined. To an increasing degree, we're counting on having angels in office and making ourselves vulnerable to devils. Bush and Obama have built infrastructure any devil would lust after. Behold the items on an aspiring tyrant's checklist that they've provided their successors:
- A precedent that allows the president to kill citizens in secret without prior judicial or legislative review
- Ongoing warrantless surveillance on millions of Americans accused of no wrongdoing, converted into a permanent database so that data of innocents spied upon in 2007 can be accessed in 2027
- Using ethnic profiling to choose the targets of secret spying, as the NYPD did with John Brennan's blessing
- Normalizing situations in which the law itself is secret -- and whatever mischief is hiding in those secret interpretations
- The permissibility of droning to death people whose identities are not even known to those doing the killing
- The ability to collect DNA swabs of people who have been arrested even if they haven't been convicted of anything
And more. This may be the single best article I've read on this subject, and believe me, I've read a few...