Pernicious powers.

I’ve written before about the collective pants-wetting I witnessed in the months and years after 9/11.  I watched with abject horror as the citizens in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave — freedom-loving liberals and government-intrusion-hating conservatives alike — meekly acquiesced to one abridgment of their constitutional rights after another, all justified by the highly dubious rationale of “Keeping Us Safe.”  With the creation of the DHS, the principled, “small-government” conservatives in the Bush/Cheney administration and the Republican-controlled Congress were responsible for the largest expansion of the Federal government in history.  The abominable Patriot Act continues to be renewed with broad bipartisan support, and a secret, sprawling, massive, unaccountable Surveillance State now has its tentacles in virtually every American’s private life.  The system has a perfect, self-sustaining justification:  if there are no (Islamist) terror attacks on American soil, then it is credited for Keeping Us Safe and must be perpetuated.  If on the other hand there are (Islamist) terror attacks on American soil, then obviously we need to expand funding for more of it.

I said screamed then as I say again now: the rights we relinquish to the government will never be restored, and the power that we grant to it will never be relinquished.  I was (and still am) incredulous that any American in the 21st century could be so blindly gullible, so ignorant of all of history, to believe that secret surveillance programs, secret legal rationales, separate judicial systems, the militarization of the nation’s police forces, and a thousand other un-American abuses of power would only ever be used against Those Bad People.  Such powers are always —always — expanded beyond their intended limits, and abused for political purposes.

In addition to the NYPD infiltrating liberal groups and placing the expressly nonviolent Occupy movement under the purview of Counterterrorism Bureau’s Terrorism Threat Analysis Group, we have Glenn Greenwald reporting on the outrageous harassment and abuse to which U.S. citizens — who are suspected of no crime — are subjected upon returning from foreign trips by Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP).

With no oversight or legal framework whatsoever, the Department of Homeland Security routinely singles out individuals who are suspected of no crimes, detains them and questions them at the airport, often for hours, when they return to the U.S. after an international trip, and then copies and even seizes their electronic devices (laptops, cameras, cellphones) and other papers (notebooks, journals, credit card receipts), forever storing their contents in government files. No search warrant is needed for any of this. No oversight exists. And there are no apparent constraints on what the U.S. Government can do with regard to whom it decides to target or why.

Lest you think these targets are all scary Muslims traveling back from madrassas in Pakistan, Glenn recounts the story of Laura Poitras, the Oscar-and Emmy-nominated documentary filmmaker and journalist, who has been continually subjected to unconscionable harassment virtually every time she returns to the United States.  Her first film, My Country, My Country, was released in 2006 and nominated for the 2007 Academy Award for Best Documentary.  According to Glenn, it “focused on a Sunni physician and 2005 candidate for the Iraqi Congress as he did things like protest the imprisonment of a 9-year-old boy by the U.S. military.” Her second, The Oath, chronicled the lives of two Yemenis caught up in America’s War on Terror, and won the award for Best Cinematography at the 2010 Sundance film festival.  Poitras is currently working on the final installment of her War on Terror trilogy:

As Poitras described it to me, this next film will examine the way in which The War on Terror has been imported onto U.S. soil, with a focus on the U.S. Government’s increasing powers of domestic surveillance, its expanding covert domestic NSA activities (including construction of a massive new NSA facility in Bluffdale, Utah), its attacks on whistleblowers, and the movement to foster government transparency and to safeguard Internet anonymity. In sum, Poitras produces some of the best, bravest and most important filmmaking and journalism of the past decade, often exposing truths that are adverse to U.S. government policy…
[Emphasis added.]

Oh, dear me.  Not truths!  How on Earth is the U.S. government supposed to conduct its secret, imperialist and counterproductive “wars” if Americans learn the truth about their actions?

Let’s look at what the U.S. government has been doing to Ms. Poitras, an American citizen suspected of no crime whatsoever:

Since the 2006 release of “My Country, My Country,” Poitras has left and re-entered the U.S. roughly 40 times. Virtually every time during that six-year-period that she has returned to the U.S., her plane has been met by DHS agents who stand at the airplane door or tarmac and inspect the passports of every de-planing passenger until they find her (on the handful of occasions where they did not meet her at the plane, agents were called when she arrived at immigration). Each time, they detain her, and then interrogate her at length about where she went and with whom she met or spoke.

She has had her laptop, camera and cellphone seized, and not returned for weeks, with the contents presumably copied. On several occasions, her reporter’s notebooks were seized and their contents copied, even as she objected that doing so would invade her journalist-source relationship. Her credit cards and receipts have been copied on numerous occasions. In many instances, DHS agents also detain and interrogate her in the foreign airport before her return, on one trip telling her that she would be barred from boarding her flight back home, only to let her board at the last minute. When she arrived at JFK Airport on Thanksgiving weekend of 2010, she was told by one DHS agent — after she asserted her privileges as a journalist to refuse to answer questions about the individuals with whom she met on her trip — that he “finds it very suspicious that you’re not willing to help your country by answering our questions.” They sometimes keep her detained for three to four hours (all while telling her that she will be released more quickly if she answers all their questions and consents to full searches).
[Emphasis in original.]

It is abundantly clear that Poitras is being targeted solely for her extraordinary film work and activism — which, last time I checked, are precisely the kinds of activities for which the United States Constitution ostensibly has a First Amendment. She has been reluctant to speak publicly, for fear doing so would further impede her ability to work and make matters worse, but an incident last week changed that:

On Thursday night, Poitras arrived at Newark International Airport from Britain. Prior to issuing her a boarding pass in London, the ticket agent called a Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agent (Yost) who questioned her about whom she met and what she did. Upon arriving in Newark, DHS/CBP agents, as always, met her plane, detained her, and took her to an interrogation room. Each time this has happened in the past, Poitras has taken notes during the entire process: in order to chronicle what is being done to her, document the journalistic privileges she asserts and her express lack of consent, obtain the names of the agents involved, and just generally to cling to some level of agency.

This time, however, she was told by multiple CBP agents that she was prohibited from taking notes on the ground that her pen could be used as a weapon. [She should have demanded a crayon. -Ed.] After she advised them that she was a journalist and that her lawyer had advised her to keep notes of her interrogations, one of them, CBP agent Wassum, threatened to handcuff her if she did not immediately stop taking notes. A CBP Deputy Chief (Lopez) also told her she was barred from taking notes, and then accused her of “refusing to cooperate with an investigation” if she continued to refuse to answer their questions (he later clarified that there was no “investigation” per se, but only a “questioning”).

Really, you should just go read the whole thing.  And then come back here and tell me who or what is going to Keep Us Safe from the U.S. government.

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