Monday, May 21, 2012

Amerika Exposed

We can thank Chris Hedges and his colleagues for this. They had the guts to sue Obama and Panetta to challenge the constitutionality of the National Defence Authorization Act and, at least in the initial ruling, they beat the government. Hedges provides a look into today's America that we should all find dark and disturbing.  

We filed the lawsuit, worked for hours on the affidavits, carried out the tedious depositions, prepared the case and went to trial because we did not want to be passive in the face of another egregious assault on basic civil liberties, because resistance is a moral imperative, and because, at the very least, we hoped we could draw attention to the injustice of the law. None of us thought we would win. But every once in a while the gods smile on the damned. 

U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest, in a 68-page opinion, ruled Wednesday that Section 1021 of the NDAA was unconstitutional. It was a stunning and monumental victory. With her ruling she returned us to a country where—as it was before Obama signed this act into law Dec. 31—the government cannot strip a U.S. citizen of due process or use the military to arrest him or her and then hold him or her in military prison indefinitely. She categorically rejected the government’s claims that the plaintiffs did not have the standing to bring the case to trial because none of us had been indefinitely detained, that lack of imminent enforcement against us meant there was no need for an injunction and that the NDAA simply codified what had previously been set down in the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force Act. The ruling was a huge victory for the protection of free speech. Judge Forrest struck down language in the law that she said gave the government the ability to incarcerate people based on what they said or wrote. Maybe the ruling won’t last. Maybe it will be overturned. But we and other Americans are freer today than we were a week ago. And there is something in this. 

The government lawyers, despite being asked five times by the judge to guarantee that we plaintiffs would not be charged under the law for our activities, refused to give any assurances. They did not provide assurances because under the law there were none. We could, even they tacitly admitted, be subject to these coercive measures. We too could be swept away into a black hole. And this, I think, decided the case.

...This law was, after all, not about foreign terrorism.  It was about domestic dissent.  If the state could link Occupy and other legitimate protest movements with terrorist groups (US Day of Rage suffered such an attempt), then the provisions in the NDAA could, in a period of instability, be used to "disappear" U.S. citizens into military gulags, including the government's offshore penal colonies.  And once there, stripped of due process, detainees could be held until, in the language of the law, "the end of hostilities."  In an age of permanent war that would be a lifetime.

Human existence, as I witnessed in war, is precarious and often very short.   The battles that must be fought may never be won in our lifetime.  And there will always be new battles to define our struggle.  Resistance to tyranny and evil is never ending.  It is a way, rather, of defining our brief sojourn on the planet.  Revolt, as Albert Camus reminded us, is the only acceptable definition of the moral life.  Revolt, he wrote, is "a constant confrontation between man and his obscurity.  ...It is not aspiration, for it is devoid of hope.  That revolt is the certainty of a crushing fate, without the resignation that ought to accompany it.'"

I think Hedges' and Camus' beliefs speak well of the challenges that face us and, particularly, our children and grandchildren in this 21st century.   Institutions we have too often taken for granted, including our very democracy, are suffering as such things inevitably do when taken for granted for too long.   Our perceived indifference to our rights and our freedoms is seen, in some quiet corners, as licence to deprive us of them, opportunity to replace them with alternatives not of our own choosing, not in our interests.   This underlies the decline of democracy and the ascendance of oligarchy marked by the fierce suppression of the middle class and the relentless expansion of the gap between rich and poor.   It is the hallmark of the evolution of corporatism and the corporatist state.   What we believe to be our rights and freedoms and what is emerging in their place cannot co-exist.  It will fall to today's young people and their children in turn to either repel these advances or else submit to them.

1 comment:

Lorne said...

Thanks for posting this. I have long been an admirer of Hedges' work, and I always find his words deeply stirring.

In Canada, we face many of the same challenges to our rights and freedoms, but unfortunately, either through passivity, ignorance or indifference, we seem to simply shrug our shoulders as democracy continues its devolution.

It is profoundly regrettable that our country does not have its own Chris Hedges, someone with the necessary passion, persistence, and articulation to rouse us from our collective slumber.