Lithwick's piece is also phenomenal. Greenwald excerpts the best part. But she's right: America suffers from Terrorism Derangement Syndrome. And each time it presents itself, it's worse than the time before. I certainly can understand why: no politician ever wants to be on the wrong side of national security, and no politician on the wrong side of national security would never admit it either.
Here we are, almost four years later with a new party in power, and the President's top intelligence official announces -- without any real controversy -- that the President claims the power to assassinate American citizens with no charges, no trials, no judicial oversight of any kind. The claimed power isn't "inherent" -- it's based on alleged Congressional approval -- but it's safeguard-free and due-process-free just the same. As Gore asked of less severe policies in 2006, if the President can do that, "then what can't he do?" As long as we stay petrified of the Terrorists and wholly submissive whenever the word "war" is uttered, the answer will continue to be: "nothing." We'll have Presidents now and then who are marginally more restrained than others -- as the current President is marginally more restrained than the prior one -- but what [Slate writer Dahlia] Lithwick calls our "willingness to suspend basic protections and become more contemptuous of American traditions and institutions" will continue unabated.
Consider the reality on the ground -- American ground:
Since 9/11, the Executive Branch of the U.S. government has declared "war" on terrorism, on a global scale (except that it's not war as declared by Congress, just an Authorized Use of Military Force, which is defined in Greenwald's piece, too). Basically it means that the Executive Branch can deem the entire surface of the globe as the battlefield, and anyone it even suspects of terrorism can be rounded up, stuck in a military prison in Cuba or Afghanistan (or at secret sites elsewhere) and brutally tortured during interrogation to produce "intelligence" that the Executive can use to claim that it is right to continue doing what it is doing.
It can hold suspected terrorists in these prisons forever, without access to family, counsel, or even the light of day deemed appropriate.
It can withhold evidence on grounds of national security to prevent any suspected terrorist of receiving a fair trial.
It can eavedrop of telephone conversations without a warrant and exempt telecom companies from prosecution if they get the wrong person.
And it can, without anyone able to intervene, kill American citizens it deems to be terrorists. No need to prove that they're terrorists (although the Executive must get "special permission," whatever that means). They are judge, jury and executioner.
Sadly, many Americans would just shrug their shoulders at this reality and say, "Well, I've got nothing to hide. I'm not a terrorist, I've never advocated the violent overthrow of the government, I've never donated money to an organization that harbors these beliefs, I don't talk to people on the phone about plans to threaten, injure or kill elected officials, I've never visited a terrorist website even out of curiosity. The worst I've ever done is believe that Obama is a non-citizen and gone to a Tea Party rally to protest the health care package."
Well, just suppose you, that Tea-Partier, got caught up in the fervor at that rally and had your picture taken, smiling, with a protestor who held a sign that said, "Watch out, you Kenyan Socialist -- we're coming to getcha!" What if that sign-wielder handed out flyers espousing his extremist views, and you stuffed it into your backpack? What if you put your name and email address on his mailing list? What if that guy turns out to be planning something for real and sends you an email advising you to arm yourself? Then he gets arrested with his computer and mailing list? You get a visit from government agents and, armed with a search warrant, they find that old flyer in your backpack. Oops, forgot about that, didn't ya? Bang, you're now a terrorist, bucko. You may not be arrested, but you'd better grow eyes in the back of your head.
It really doesn't take much. The government can invest anything it wants about you, even if it's not true. Look how many non-terrorists Bush stuck in Gitmo, only to release them en masse years later because they realized that they were wrong? How many years of your life do you want to risk giving up so that you can "feel safe" in your neighborhood? The Constitution exists to protect everyone, or it doesn't protect anyone. There is no middle ground.