Sunday 25 December 2005

The dog or the wild lioness

What patriotism?
Pause and think – this is the purportedly the reverse acronym or backronym for the USA Patriot Act 2001.  Methinks we have been sold a Trojan Horse.
When the news first broke out that the Presidency of the United States of America had authorised the surveillance of American citizens, one let that frustration of due process pass on.
However, the commentary that has developed since that revelation to that which now includes the secret scanning of radiation around the premises of American Muslims.
Patriotism is supposedly the love of ones fatherland, but at what cost to freedom, liberty and safety? This is a very concerning issue.
Latitude and abuse
I am of the view that the US Congress did offer great latitude to the President to fight the war on terror which is explicit in that it affords the President everything in his power to prosecute that war.
However, the extent of that power should only be exercised to include undefined and unspecified situations; meaning, where a due process and an existing explicit law exists which has not be superseded, then that take precedent.
Due process
In the case of the surveillance of American citizens, explicit due process exists, hence, it cannot first be ignored by the President nor does it fall under the remit of the great latitude.
One of the reasons for due process is the prevention of abuse; it forces the executive to work with the judiciary even in expedited situations with all evidence properly documented.
Where this process is overruled or ignored, those checks and balances are lost, because the continual review of the activities is done only within the executive without legislative or judicial oversight. It violates the rule of law and blunts the democratic principle of the separation of powers.
More so, without oversight, it means people wrongly targeted or abuse of process cannot be properly prosecuted. This is a democratic aberration and for this to happen in the , well, one wonders how strong their democratic credentials are.
The arguments
  • The President has said, what he has done is within the law and the Attorney General has waded in to extrapolate on the latitude given the President – the jury is out regarding the legality of that standpoint.
  • The President called the revelation of those facts shameful; they might be, but if due process had been followed there would be no need for the revelation to create that much commentary. One does not recall the President calling the revelation of Valerie Plame’s status as a CIA agent shameful.
  • The President has said the revelation of this information helps the enemy, however, I think the enemy is within. First the argument about due process prevails over this, then as a democracy you cannot apply the “end justifies the means” principle for the abuse of process.
  • The President says this is saving people’s lives; maybe it is, but that is beside the point, the executive cannot become a law onto itself. Principle and integrity should not be supplanted by the histrionics that prevent the objective debate of issues.
Patriot Act revisited
Now that the “fog of war” is clearing, the Congress is having another good look at the Patriot Act and they have decided that the provisions cannot be extended indefinitely.
The blanket passage of flawed legislation on the flood of patriotic support for the President in a time of crisis is now thankfully receiving better and due scrutiny.
Also, we see that senators have been able to persuade the Presidency to accept the need to have a law that explicitly instructs against the practise of torture by all American personnel after a rather bruising few months.
The principle
The fundamental principle at stake here is that even in the time of war, the President still cannot exercise untrammelled powers without due process and oversight.
This leads on to the concept that this is still a democracy, they have a president not a king, and it is neither an absolute monarchy nor a theocracy. The congress and judiciary are there to turn that Texan swagger into a stiff match, hopefully.
The guard dog or the lioness
The Patriot Act is supposed to be like a guard dog, protecting the owner and attacking the enemy. The more we look at the dog the more it looks like a wild and angry lioness that has just lost a cub; meaning it either needs to be caged to protect us from its savagery and is of no use in attacking the enemy or we have to be in cages and have the lioness roam seeking out and eating the enemy.
Do we need a guard dog or a wild lioness?
Essential liberty or temporary safety
One commentator did say that the American Muslims should be enlisted in the war against terror not blacklisted in it; they had no part in the activities of September 2001.
Furthermore, Americans must decide if they are really deserving of both their safety and liberty as the words of Benjamin Franklin ring true today as they did over 200 years ago. “They who give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
At this time of seasonal goodwill, one hopes that a New Years resolution is brewing in the Presidency to go beyond upholding the letter but also the spirit of the democratic principles raised by all concerned citizens.
Merry Christmas to all my readers.

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