When Barack Obama was elected president, the chickens came home to roost above the sordid nest that conservatives made for us after the 9/11 attacks. It was after those attacks that conservatives, quivering and quaking in their shoes over the thought that the terrorists were coming to get us, traded away the freedom of the American people to the federal government in the hope of gaining safety and security from the terrorists.
What were the terms of that fateful trade? They surrendered to President Bush omnipotent powers, powers that are inherent to any totalitarian regime and that are antithetical to the principles of freedom, due process of law, and limited government in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
Such totalitarian powers included the following:
1. The power to take people into military custody as suspected terrorists, holding them for as long as the military wants, torture them, and even execute them, perhaps after some sort of kangaroo trial before a military tribunal, all without trial by jury and due process of law. While Americans were initially led to believe that such powers encompassed only foreigners, they soon learned that they also included American citizens. That’s what the Jose Padilla case was all about, a case in which the federal courts deferred to the president and upheld his new presidential powers.
2. The power to spy on people, delve into their telephone records, monitor their telephone calls, read their emails, and who knows what else. That includes not just foreigners but also Americans. That’s what the illegal contracts that Bush and his people made with the telecoms were all about. It’s also what the Edward Snowden revelations about the NSA are all about.
3. The power to assassinate people, including American citizens. That power is confirmed by the ongoing assassinations of countless foreigners as well as the assassinations of American citizens Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son Abdulrahman. No judicial warrants. No trials to determine guilt or innocence. No due process of law. Just plain, simple, and efficient assassination, without anyone having to answer, justify, or explain the assassinations.
There is no way to reconcile these powers with the principles of a free society. They are inherent to totalitarian regimes. They are precisely the powers that our ancestors did their best to prevent the federal government from exercising. That’s what the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments are all about.
It also doesn’t make any difference how much Americans might still consider themselves a free people. False realities are only delusions. They don’t create a new reality. People who live under any regime that wields these types of totalitarian powers are not a free people, pure and simple.
But conservatives thought that it was a good trade because their man — George W. Bush — was the president. He’s a compassionate conservative, they cried. He can be trusted with these omnipotent powers, they said. He’ll take care of us and keep us safe from the terrorists.
We libertarians kept emphasizing: Don’t relinquish these powers to anyone. Imagine the person who you would consider your worst nightmare being elected president. Would you want him to wield these powers? Don’t trade away our freedom, we libertarians said, no matter how afraid you are and no matter how much trust you have in President Bush.
But conservatives wouldn’t listen. They were too afraid. They wanted safety and security. Nothing else mattered. They traded away our freedom in the hope that Bush and his army and CIA would keep them safe from the terrorists.
And then seven years later Democrat Barack Obama was elected president. He now wielded the totalitarian powers that conservatives had relinquished to President Bush.
And that’s not the end of it. Now we are facing the distinct prospect that Hillary Rodham Clinton will be elected president in 2016. She’s leading the polls by far in the Democrat Party. The Republicans have no frontrunner and are expected to field some 15 or more candidates.
That’s what conservatives have done to us with their fateful trade back in 2001. Time will tell, but there is now a very real possibility that Hillary Rodham Clinton will be wielding the totalitarian powers that conservatives relinquished to George W. Bush after the 9/11 attacks. The powers to arrest Americans (and foreigners) and detain them indefinitely in military custody, to torture them, to spy on them, and to assassinate them. All very possibly wielded by Bill Clinton’s wife, Hillary.
Nice job, conservatives! Thanks a lot for trading away our freedom for the sake of security. You lost us both our freedom and our security.
Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.
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