With "Protectors" Like This, Who Need Enemies?
A confluence of evidence emerged over the past week that the public's fear of "terrorism" (the ultimate in easily exploited boogeymen that seemingly no government in the world can resist) can and will be used against us. First came news that despite the US government's constant reassurances that there is judicial oversight of their domestic spying activities, the very courts they say are watching out for the public's interest admitted they have very little real power to do so. From the Washington Post:
The leader of the secret court that is supposed to provide critical oversight of the government’s vast spying programs said that its ability to do so is limited and that it must trust the government to report when it improperly spies on Americans.The larger issue at play within using "we're protecting you from terrorism" excuses for governmental over-reach and/or abuse, though, is the way such "anti-terrorism" sentiment can foreseeably be used to excuse any atrocity a government wishes to carry out. For example, the interim government in Egypt has begun re-branding their killing of over 1000 protesters last week as "a war against violent terrorists" and began chastising any foreign journalist who didn't report it as such. From The New York Times:
The chief judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court said the court lacks the tools to independently verify how often the government’s surveillance breaks the court’s rules that aim to protect Americans’ privacy. Without taking drastic steps, it also cannot check the veracity of the government’s assertions that the violations its staff members report are unintentional mistakes.
“The FISC is forced to rely upon the accuracy of the information that is provided to the Court,” its chief, U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton, said in a written statement to The Washington Post. “The FISC does not have the capacity to investigate issues of noncompliance, and in that respect the FISC is in the same position as any other court when it comes to enforcing [government] compliance with its orders.”
“One could be forgiven for saying that there is a coordinated campaign against the foreign journalists,” Matt Bradley, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, said Sunday in an interview with Al Jazeera’s English-language sister network. He described being pulled into an armored personnel carrier by soldiers rescuing him after a mob tackled him, tore at his clothes and took his notebook.Of course, that's Egypt, right...using anti-terrorism rhetoric and/or laws to excuse governmental abuse would never happen in more progressive countries, right?
Coming at the end of a week when security forces killed more than 1,000 Morsi supporters in the streets, the push to control how the news media portray the violence is the latest sign of the government’s authoritarian turn, which its officials have justified as emergency measures to save Egypt from a coordinated campaign of violence by the Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Scholars and human rights activists say they see signs of broad coordination between Egypt’s state and private media to drive home the same messages. After the first mass shooting following the military takeover killed more than 60 Morsi supporters at a sit-in, for example, television talk shows across the state and private media seemed to suggest that the Islamists might have deliberately provoked the violence to tarnish the military. Later, all seemed to discover that even Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain had argued for limiting human rights in the interest of protecting national security.
“There is very clear coordination,” said Heba Morayef, a researcher in Egypt for Human Rights Watch. “Forgetting what is true or not, it is interesting that you hear the same thing from everybody.”
Just yesterday came the chilling news that the UK government detained Glenn Greenwald's partner at Heathrow airport for 9 hours via what by all counts is a blatant abuse of a counter-terrorism law. Greenwald, as you may know, is the journalist for The Guardian who was contacted by Edward Snowden and who's been working carefully with his paper's editors to publish that story as conscientiously as possible according to most of the journalists I respect. His partner, David Michael Miranda, is a citizen of Brazil and not even a journalist (although he had been visiting a collaborator of Greenwald's on this story in Berlin and his trip was paid for by The Guardian). Whereas it's understandable the UK government (read: acting on request of the US government, imho) would use any option at their disposal to interrogate Miranda after he met with Greenwald's collaborator, it should be viewed as entirely unacceptable that they twisted a law designed to stop terrorists in order to do so. From The New York Times:
Mr. Miranda, Mr. Greenwald said, was told that he was being detained under Section 7 of the British Terrorism Act, which allows the authorities to detain someone for up to nine hours for questioning and to conduct a search of personal items, often without a lawyer, to determine possible ties to terrorism. More than 97 percent of people stopped under the provision are questioned for under an hour, according to the British government.Until the public begins to show a bit of backbone, governments will continue to abuse "anti-terrorism" rhetoric and laws that their sheepish, cowering citizens permit them to enact. It has always been obvious to me that with such laws in their toolkit, they would not be able to resist using them toward other, obviously authoritarian ends. They clearly have way too much power with such laws, and only the naivest of fools would believe such power will not corrupt them.
“What’s amazing is this law, called the Terrorism Act, gives them a right to detain and question you about your activities with a terrorist organization or your possible involvement in or knowledge of a terrorism plot,” Mr. Greenwald said. “The only thing they were interested in was N.S.A. documents and what I was doing with Laura Poitras. It’s a total abuse of the law.” He added: “This is obviously a serious, radical escalation of what they are doing. He is my partner. He is not even a journalist.”