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Death squads in America?

Tom Maertens served as National Security Council director for proliferation and homeland defense in the George W. Bush White House, and as deputy coordinator for counterterrorism in the State Department on 9/11.

Five years after 9/11, it's clear that the Bush administration's costly War on Terror has failed on two counts. It has undermined our civil liberties and made the world more dangerous. The direct cost of the war in Iraq, according to Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel economist, has already exceeded $1 trillion, including long-term veterans' care and similar costs. Along with the war has come enormous destruction and loss of life, and major damage to our international standing.

deathsquads And there are more terrorists in the world than ever before, a fact the administration plays up to curtail our freedoms. In the aftermath of 9/11, the administration succeeded in passing an extreme version of an internal security law, called the USA Patriot Act. It permits secret arrests, sneak and peek searches, and obtaining bank, credit, library and Internet records, all without a warrant. The administration also instituted wiretaps and intercepts on millions of Americans' e-mail messages and phone calls without warrants, a program recently ruled unconstitutional by a federal court.
 

In 2005, Bush quietly created the National Clandestine Service, which authorizes the CIA to operate within the United States -- despite past abuses such as Operation Chaos -- and reinstituted domestic spying by the military through the Counter Intelligence Field Activity (CIFA), in violation of the Posse Comitatus Act. He also created the National Security Service, putting elements of the FBI under his direct control, the closest we have had to a secret police agency in our 200-year history. The FBI now sends out 30,000 National Security Letters per year, demanding personal information without benefit of a warrant. It has imposed gag orders on every aspect of NSLs, making it illegal to reveal that one has been received. How does this differ from secret police tactics?

Documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union show that the government conducted surveillance on as many as 150 peaceful protest or social groups, including Greenpeace, Catholic Workers, and Quakers in Florida.

The Bush administration has used the threat of terrorism to silence peaceful protest at public events. It has happened all over the country, including to two women in Cedar Rapids who were handcuffed, led off to jail and strip-searched for "disrupting" a Bush rally. Terrorists, perhaps? One was wearing a Kerry/Edwards button; the other carried a small antiwar sign.

Perhaps no event demonstrates more clearly the dangerous authoritarianism of the Bush crowd than the arrest of two American citizens, Jose Padilla and Yasir Hamdi, who were held for 3½ years in solitary confinement with no charges, no court appearance and no lawyer. The Bush administration declared them "enemy combatants" -- Enemies of the State -- and threw them in prison indefinitely, just like a Third World dictatorship.

Winston Churchill once said: "The power of the executive to cast a man into prison without formulating any charge known to the law, and particularly to deny him the judgment of his peers, is in the highest degree odious, and the foundation of all totalitarian government whether Nazi or Communist."

How far can the Bush administration go? Steven Bradbury of the Justice Department recently suggested before a congressional committee that the president might have the power to order the killing of terrorist suspects inside the United States.

Government assassination squads? In America?

Things could get much worse. The Bush administration has bungled the war on terror so badly there are no real prospects of "winning." Even worse, the neoconservatives are pushing for a wider war in the Middle East.

For more than a decade, they have advocated attacking Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon and even Saudi Arabia, using various smokescreens but, overwhelmingly, to defend Israel. The principal reason they wanted to invade Iraq was to eliminate any clandestine weapons-of-mass-destruction program that could have threatened Israel.

The neocons' next target is Iran. The pretext is Iran's alleged nuclear weapons program, for which there is no more evidence than there was for Saddam Hussein's nukes. But Tehran, of course, backs Israel's nemesis, Hezbollah.

You'd think the neocons would have learned something from the disastrous invasion of Iraq, an occupation that has already lasted longer than the U.S. fight against Germany in World War II. In the single-minded world of the neocons, however, attacking Iran is an "opportunity" to remake the Middle East. There is apparently no end of such opportunities: They also encouraged Israel to attack Syria during its incursion into Lebanon.

Everybody in government knows that the terrorists hate us because of our blind support for Israel, not because they "hate our freedom." The Bush administration has abandoned any pretense of even-handedness, the honest broker role we used to have, and now blindly backs every action Israel undertakes -- whether bombing a power plant in Gaza or civilians in Lebanon -- no matter how damaging to our own interests.

The neocons are constantly pressing the government to ally the United States with Israel against much of the Islamic world (and its oil) in a "battle for civilization." Such a wider war would further inflame the Middle East and provoke an even greater terrorist threat in response, with higher costs than we can now imagine -- including domestic costs.

James Madison once warned: "If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy." The Bush administration has already exploited the war in Iraq and fears about terrorism to stampede the American people into accepting an astonishing curtailment of their freedoms and growing lawlessness by the government. If the administration chooses to engage in the neocons' endless, global War for Civilization, American democracy will ultimately be one of the casualties.

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