The idea of having a strong Federal government was controversial in the early United States, and one of the ways Federalists reassured Americans that it wouldn’t become tyrannical was to append a Bill of Rights to the Constitution.
That attempt to prevent despotism has failed, because the Federal government and its various agencies have set aside the Bill of Rights as a dead letter, substituted for them a bizarre set of interpretations of law, and either avoid having the courts adjudicate their fascist fantasies or managed to have appointed to the bench unethical or authoritarian judges that will uphold virtually anything they do.
How corrupt our system has become is evident when even the New Yorker emphasizes that a secret Senate report found that torture in the Bush years was “unnecessary” and “ineffective.” Not that it was “unconstitutional.”
The Eighth Amendment of the US constitution forbids ‘cruel and unusual punishment.’ US courts have found that the Framers’ injunction was intended to be dynamic, and did not only forbid those things thought barbaric in 1789 but those things contemporary Americans would find cruel and unusual. As Cornell Law school put it,
Waterboarding is illegal (not to mention setting German shepherds on people to viciously bite them). Professor of Law Wilson R. Huhn writes:
Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable search and seizure. As long as the unreasonable search and seizure happens on the internet, apparently that is all right. What arrogance, what hypocrisy, what fascism.
An honest appeals court just ruled that the government needs a warrant to put a tracking device on your car and follow you around by GPS. But your cell phone metadata also reveals your movements, and the NSA is scooping that information up, effectively following you around without a warrant, exactly what the court just found unjustified. But the Federal government (yes, the Obama administration) has succeeded in keeping NSA practices out of the courts.
While few Americans care that the NSA was intensively spying on the Mexicans, French and Germans, even on German chancellor Angela Merkel’s private cell phone, they should. The Bill of Rights were once a point of inspiration for human rights activists around the world. Much of what the youth who led the Arab upheavals of 2011 wanted was enshrined in the Bill of Rights. American ideals and rule of law were part of America’s soft power in the world. The European Union is suddenly less cooperative because of our allies’ outrage at being spied on. No one wants to be like creepy peeping toms or vicious torturers, and that is what Americans have become.
Moreover, the NSA foreign spying is racist. Yes, on top of everything else, it involves a racist hierarchy. The US doesn’t intensively spy on Canadians, British and Australians, i.e. on what were called in the 19th century ‘Anglo-Saxons.’ It is only the inferior races that Washington subjects to surveillance.
But all that is crashing and burning as the US government has betrayed those ideals over and over again. We’re being massively spied on by our government, our location, the people we call, the websites we visit, all being monitored constantly. And if the government decides we are terrorism suspects, we could well be tortured. Martin Luther King’s principle of civil disobedience would be categorized as terrorism today, and if he were active in our time, instead of naming a Federal holiday after him, the government would have MLK waterboarded by police dressed up as military commandos.