The current systematic undoing of civil liberties under the guise of increased national security has a long history in U.S. politics. In this meticulous update, David Cole and James Dempsey take us from McCarthyism through the FBIâe(TM)s Counter Intelligence Program of the 1960s and 1970s, and the persecution of central American solidarity groups in the 1980s, to the dreadful events of 9/11 and the Bush administrationâe(TM)s exploitation of tragedy in pursuit of global superintendence.
The responses to 9/11 are all the more galling in that none of the measures that have cost the country its right to due process and free speech have lessened the threat of terrorism. As the authors make clear, blanket surveillance and preventive detention have been spectacularly unsuccessful in identifying actual terrorists, including the murderers of 9/11.
Instead, while the U.S. now legally âeoetortures in self-defenceâe at strategic locations around the globe, at home it continues to flout the basic First Amendment rights of ordinary citizens. Legal sanction has now been given to investigating wholly nonviolent political activity that supports organisations disfavoured by Congress, while one-sided hearings using secret evidence make it impossible for defendants to question the validity of the allegations against them.
Cole and Dempsey show that politically committed U.S. citizens are now, as often as not, the victims of a misunderstanding between effective criminal investigation and the FBIâe(TM)s frequently misleading counterintelligence operations. As was proven during the 1980s in its monitoring of the perfectly legal activity of El Salvador solidarity groups, the FBI wastes important resources at the cost of identifying real threats. Lessons have not been learned and the Bureau has lost sight of what it should be looking for.
Terrorism and the Constitution emphasizes the importance of diversity, tolerance of dissent and individual culpability. Its authors make a strong claim that those are the values that should inform counter-terrorist policy and they call for a reorientation of FBI procedure âe" one based on focused criminal investigation and sound evidence that is subject to public scrutiny. Importantly, too, they emphasize that political freedom is societyâe(TM)s safety valve, and that the insidious undermining of that freedom is its greatest threat. âe"Marcus Williams
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