The contempt for the rule of law, the abandonment of Constitutional principles, the foundation-laying toward an extreme and entrenched Authoritarian government — these are things that drug policy reform advocates have seen happening for many years in conjunction with the drug war. The ground work was laid well before 9/11.
Of course, such concerns were often dismissed as paranoid rants from drug-addled brains. And, since drug policy communities have often attracted a few tinfoil-hat-wearing characters speaking in tongues, it was easy for a complacent population to ignore the signs.
Then came the “opportunity” of 9/11. Suddenly there was justification for expanding governmental powers as the public rushed to be the first to trade in their rights for some magic beans that would protect them.
“The cause we have chosen is just,” said John Ashcroft as he laid out some of the dismantling of America in the Patriot Act. The Times reported Ashcroft called for a “dramatic shift away from what he described as an old law-enforcement culture that was strapped by restrictions and limitations no longer relevant in an age of terror.”
So now the war on drugs exceptions to the Bill of Rights could be extended to the also vast and indefinable war on terror.
We’ve talked about this before, but several recent stories have brought this to my attention again.
“bullet” For years now, the government has been illegally spying on its citizens and has gone to great lengths to avoid any kind of oversight (with the helpful capitulation of Congress). They always said we should just trust them — they’re not going to listen in on our conversations — just the terrorists’.
GEORGE BUSH: It‰s phone calls of known Al Qaeda suspects making a phone call into the United States.
In the most unsurprising revelation imaginable, two former Army Reserve Arab linguists for the National Security Agency have said that they routinely eavesdropped on Ö ‹and recorded and transcribedŠ Ö the private telephone calls of American citizens who had absolutely nothing to do with terrorism.
“bullet” So if a government has nothing preventing them from spying on citizens, how will they react to those who protest government policy?
The Maryland State Police classified 53 nonviolent activists as terrorists and entered their names and personal information into state and federal databases that track terrorism suspects, the state police chief acknowledged yesterday. […]
The police also entered the activists’ names into the federal Washington-Baltimore High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area database, which tracks suspected terrorists. One well-known antiwar activist from Baltimore, Max Obuszewski, was singled out in the intelligence logs released by the ACLU, which described a “primary crime” of “terrorism-anti-government” and a “secondary crime” of “terrorism-anti-war protesters.” […]
Sen. James Brochin (D-Baltimore County) noted that undercover troopers used aliases to infiltrate organizational meetings, rallies and group e-mail lists. He called the spying a “deliberate infiltration to find out every piece of information necessary” on groups such as the Maryland Campaign to End the Death Penalty and the Baltimore Pledge of Resistance.
And here’s the mindset of an authoritarian government:
The former state police superintendent who authorized the operation, Thomas E. Hutchins, defended the program in testimony yesterday. Hutchins said the program was a bulwark against potential violence and called the activists “fringe people.” […]
Hutchins told the committee it was not accurate to describe the program as spying. “I doubt anyone who has used that term has ever met a spy,” he told the committee. […]
Hutchins said the intelligence agents, whose logs were obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland as part of a lawsuit, were monitoring “open public meetings.” His officers sought a “situational awareness” of the potential for disruption as death penalty opponents prepared to protest the executions of two men on death row, Hutchins said.
“I don’t believe the First Amendment is any guarantee to those who wish to disrupt the government,” he said.
Yeah, how dare they use that First Amendment to protest the government…
[Side note: another scary sign of authoritarianism is the degree to which, in recent years, the notion of disagreeing with the government/its policies/its laws is somehow seen as un-American.]
“bullet” So how far does this governmental sickness go? What about indefinite detention for innocent people?
A federal judge yesterday ordered a small band of Chinese Muslims being held at the Guantanamo Bay military prison released into the United States by Friday, rejecting the Bush administration’s contention that it could detain them indefinitely without cause.
These are people who have been held for seven years and yet the government admits that they are completely innocent. They can’t be returned to China, but the government doesn’t want them in the United States, where they could talk to the press about how they were treated at Guantanamo. So they want to continue holding them forever.
Oh, the next day, the administration got a different court to issue a stay, so they could have another shot at detaining them indefinitely.
“bullet” In the context of all these symptoms of Government Gone Wild, the Supreme Court this week heard Herring v. United States – a case dealing with one aspect of the exclusionary rule of evidence (the exclusionary rule means that if law enforcement do not follow the law, any evidence they find subsequently is excluded from consideration in the trial). It’s likely that the Supreme Court will rule in this case that the exclusionary rule doesn’t apply.
There has already been some whittling away at the exclusionary rule in Hudson v. Michigan, and there’s a very real danger that the Supreme Court could eventually eliminate it altogether.
Nathan Robinson warns:
If we allow tainted evidence into court, then for the police the ends will justify the means. As long as they can get a hold of something incriminating, the steps they have taken to obtain it will not matter, even if those steps include violations of constitutional rights.
The implications of removing the rule are so enormous that it is surprising that the Court is even considering removing or watering down the effects of this valuable rule. By doing so, the Court reveals that it is out of touch with the day-to-day realities of the American criminal justice system. In my experience, police officers are already mainly concerned with what the end result of a search is, rather than how they go about performing it, and often dig up questionable probable cause, or try to badger people into consenting to searches. In these cases, the exclusionary rule is one of the only ways of holding police accountable.
But conservative justices on the Court do not care for the exclusionary rule, and the more of them that sit on the bench, the greater the threat to its existence. Those who value their civil liberties have much more to fear from a McCain Court than the overturning of Roe v. Wade. The exclusionary rule is one of our country’s most unique and powerful protections against government misbehavior, and if we allow Stevens and Ginsburg to be replaced with more Scalitos, we can wave it a fond goodbye, as police gain greater and greater incentives to disregard our rights without consequence.
But perhaps we should just count on Scalia’s New Police Professionalism and trust them. And just trust the federal government not to listen in on our phone calls. And trust the Maryland police to go after the bad protestors. And sit back and enjoy our indefinite detention.