American Justice: As Unequal As American Economics

Pity the poor former intelligence officials who are in danger of losing their long-held privilege to be privy to what the government considers its national security secrets — you know the ones we ordinary mortals dare not access or presumably like Lot’s wife we will be turned into tablets of stone.

Although nine former national security ghouls have been threatened with revocation of their security clearance, an action which would cut off their lifeline to the manifold secrets of a national-security obsessed U.S., only one, Obama’s ex-CIA director John Brennan, has actually seen his security clearance go bye-bye. That’s right John Brennan who oversaw and justified torture and rendition for the last two war criminal presidents, George W. Bush and Barack Obama and studded his illustrious career with accomplishments on the order of giving the okay to his underlings to spy on Senate staffers working on the Senate Intelligence Committee’s torture report (which, aside from a snippet, has never been released to the general public). Not content with that skullduggery, he told the Senate it never happened. Lying to Congress, a bunch of liars themselves, happens to be a felony punishable by years in prison or hefty fines for those who do not have friends in high places. Check out what happened to Roger Clemens.

Then there was that other lying sleaze ball, James Clapper, Obama’s Director of National Security (no coincidence that two national security officials who lied to Congress worked for the liar-in-chief Barack Obama, see Legacy – Obama’s and Ours for the slippery career of one Barack Obama. In James Clapper’s case his denial — “no sir, not wittingly” —in sworn testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee that the NSA indulged in warrantless surveillance of millions of Americans was a flat-out lie. He later excused his felonious testimony by explaining that it was the “least untruthful” statement he could have made. Neither man felt the long arm of the law reach out to prosecute them. James Clapper still has his security clearance. John Brennan just lost his.

As news of Brennan’s “grievous” loss became public, the media went into a tail spin. Headlines from a variety of major news outlets heralded the end of free speech in the U.S. Here’s a couple from the self-described (no one else would) paper of record and the Washington Post— Trump Uses His Power Against Critic,” (NYT) “Trump Dangles Access as Punishment” (NYT), “Trump revoked John Brennan’s security clearance: The long-term consequences may be dire.” (Washington Post).

John Brennan, war criminal credentials intact, was “shocked, shocked” to find himself out of the loop where America’s secrets were concerned. Not good for business either as he is a paid analyst for —who else— MSNBC and expressed his outrage on none other than the Rachel Maddow Show “These are…very frightening times. I think Mr. Trump has demonstrated…that he believes that just because he has the authority to do these things that he has…the right to do it.” In another venue, he loftily proclaimed “It should… worry all Americans about the cost of speaking out.”

No question about it, all Americans should be worried. Not because a bunch of ex-national security spooks are about to lose their security clearances. Numbered among those whose clearances are reputed to be on the chopping block are two admitted perjurers (James Clapper and John Brennan), a defender of Obama’s decision to turn Libya into a garbage dump going so far as to lie for him on five Sunday news programs rewarded for her loyalty by becoming Obama’s national security advisor (Susan Rice), a general (Michael Hayden) turned corporatist war-monger rewarded for his rainmaking efforts on behalf of a company owned by the creator of the U.S.A. Patriot Act (Michael Chertoff) as well as selling his services, complete with security clearance, to a bunch of equally creepy corporations on the defense department dole. After all what good is a security clearance if you can’t monetize it? Phillip Bump, columnist for the Washington Post, explains the connection between security clearances and pots of gold: “provid[ing] consulting services for which a clearance is…an asset for outside defense firms.” The reward for just being able to say “Yep, turns out things are really screwed up in Yemen.” More money than most Americans earn in ten years.

No, we’re not going to cry for you, ex-intelligence thugs, but John Brennan was right that “all Americans should worry about the cost of speaking out. For most Americans, the penalty for exercising their first amendment right is much steeper, courtesy of the constitutional law “scholar” turned president. In 2012, President Hope and Change decided to get rid of the one thing that threatened his agenda of global war and terror —dissident voices. The geniuses in his administration came up with the solution. Quietly inserted into the 2012 NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act) were two provisions, sections 1021 and 1022 which authorized military detention, without charge or trial, for anyone, including American citizens (in reality targeting American citizens) whom the president deemed a “belligerent” (other labels included “unlawful combatant” or “terrorist).  Along with indefinite detention, sections 1021 and 1022 effectively defanged habeas corpus which prohibits the detention of individuals without due process. Habeas corpus is the constitutionally-protected gold standard of American justice. Not since Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War has any administration tried to undermine citizens’ right to habeas corpus protection. Alexander Hamilton insisted that habeas corpus was the only protection against “the favorite and most formidable instruments of tyranny.”  With the passage of the 2012 NDAA, habeas corpus has gone the way of whalebone corsets and telephone booths.

What does it mean to you or me, ordinary American citizens? Close your eyes and imagine for a moment that it’s 2019 and you stand up at a demonstration to denounce the increasing militarization and war fever gripping U.S. political leaders.  Acting under sections 1021 and 1022, the president determines that you are a “suspected terrorist.” How he comes by that designation is of course a state secret. Although you will probably never know why, you are suddenly clapped into a military prison. The authorities call you a “belligerent” but even they don’t know what that means. Just a way for the president to shut you up. You ask for a lawyer. You are told you are not eligible for one. You ask to know what you are being charged with. Sorry, that’s classified information. Much later you learn the reason for your detention: you pissed off the president or another official he (or she) authorized to carry out your detention. You are at the mercy of a judicial system run amuck, liable to be tried in a military court, rendered to another country or even executed without charge or trial.

Even the stalwart defender of everything Obama, the New York Times, was shocked out of its complacency: “the bill has so many…objectionable aspects that we can’t go into them all. Even Obama apologist and booster-in-chief Andrew Sullivan lamented that “[this bill] is another sign that his campaign pledge to be vigilant about civil liberties in the war on terror was a lie.” Right on brother! With all the usual suspects arrayed against the civil liberties-chilling provisions of the bill, including the captive media and beltway insiders, surely the Senate whose vote was needed to make the 2012 NDAA law rose up as one and courageously defied the President. Actually no. Senate knuckleheads couldn’t get to the podium fast enough to herald the coming of the NDAA and indefinite detention as the perfect antidote to “excessive” democracy. Here’s Lindsay (Warpath) Graham, constitutional “no-nothing,” singing the praises of a bill meant to chill the voices of opposition — “…and when they say I want my lawyer [you tell them] SHUT UP, you don’t get a lawyer. You’re an enemy combatant…”

Who was there to speak up against this nauseating display of oppression? Only 13 senators voted against the bill. One of those, libertarian Ron Paul, describing the bill as a “slip into tyranny” fired this salvo at Lindsay Graham — “Sadly too many of my colleagues are too willing to undermine our constitution to support such outrageous legislation.” Here’s Bernie Sanders, still waffling on the increasingly militarized foreign policy of the U.S. as he natters on about the need to “aggressively pursue international terrorists and all those who would do us harm” (including those we have already harmed). Despite his fears of terrorists lurking under

American beds, he managed a lukewarm denunciation of sections 1021 and 1022 — “misguided provisions that in the name of fighting terrorism…authorize the indefinite imprisonment of Americans without charges.” Whether you consider “misguided” the appropriate word to describe a deliberate attempt to undermine the basic constitutional right that gives “power to the people,” Bernie’s sentiments are at least half-way there.

That awesome power to indefinitely detain and try without due process now transfers seamlessly to the next president who happens to be Donald Trump.  The same person who according to a spokesperson for People Against the NDAA “[has been] “approving of military trials for American citizens at Guantanamo Bay.”

Perhaps it’s time to pay heed to nineteenth century historian Lord Acton’s observation that “power tends to corrupt, absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  While the privileged few, ex members of the intelligence community, bemoan the increasing likelihood that their income may be seriously depleted with the loss of their security clearances, the odd three hundred million of us who don’t fit into that category face a threat much more dire: the loss of our liberty based on the perceptions of the current occupant of the White House. Six years have passed since the bill was made law and almost no one remembers it. But it’s still there, enshrined as the law of the land. Make no mistake about it, the sword of Damocles is hanging over our heads. The next time you feel emboldened not to stand in rapt attention with your hand over your heart as the Star-Spangled Banner is played at your ten-year-old daughter’s soccer game or decide to attend a rally to protest the beginning of yet another war and the trashing of another Middle East country, beware, you might find yourself thrown into a military prison facing indefinite detention. Powerful friends in Congress willing to go to bat for intelligence honchos. Not for you, ordinary citizens. Who will be there for you?

First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Communist…

Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me. 

—Martin Niemöller (imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp, liberated by the allies in 1945)

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