Saturday, May 16, 2009

Watching Americans

It was another interesting trip to Watching America. President Obama's decisions to not release the torture pictures but to continue the military commission trials got a lot of international coverage. So did the sorry state of the Republican Party in the US. The article that I found most interesting, however, had to do with the Department of Homeland Security.

Written by Matthew Harwood for the Comment Is Free section of the Guardian, the article points to the recent flap over reports prepared by DHS which seemed to be aimed directly at conservative groups, reports that got those groups' knickers in such a twist that DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano immediately withdrew the reports.

The 11-page "Domestic Extremism Lexicon" defines potential domestic terrorism threats facing the United States. Produced by DHS's office of intelligence and analysis, it's purpose was to define key terms and extremist groups. Conservative websites were apoplectic about how "rightwing extremism" was described:

"A movement of rightwing groups or individual who can be broadly divided into those who are primarily hate-oriented, and those who are mainly antigovernment and reject federal authority in favour of state or local authority. This term also may refer to rightwing extremist movements that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration."

Though retracted within hours of its release and recalled from state and local law enforcement partners, the lexicon has nevertheless drawn the ire of rightwing groups, who see it as yet another example of the Obama administration equating anti-immigration and anti-abortion groups with terrorism. ...

It's true that the DHS lexicon does include anti-abortion activists who use violence against abortion doctors and clinics in its list of extremists. But the lexicon also includes typically leftwing movements associated with animal rights, the environment and anarchism, among others. The truth is that both the left and the right have reason to be suspicious of the US government's surveillance programmes.
[Emphasis added]

One of the basic truths about government is that once it has assumed powers, it is damned near impossible to wrest those powers back, no matter which party is in control. The Bush administration rolled back all sorts of constitutional guarantees, among them the right to be secure in one's home, and the right to free speech and assembly. Spying on US citizens at home and abroad was expanded. That was the status quo when President Obama entered office, and the fact that the DHS and other government agencies continue those practices, with or without the explicit approval of the White House, is not only shameful, it is profoundly worrisome as Mr. Harwood points out:

DHS has become an albatross of surveillance choking American necks. Internal documents such as the lexicon and the rightwing extremism report, combined with previous examples of DHS helping state fusion centres watch over antiwar protesters under the Bush administration, show that DHS is not only actively undermining American civil liberties but is also politicised by whichever party is running the country. This isn't a left-right issue, it's an American issue. [Emphasis added]

Retracting those reports is not going to solve anything as long as the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice continue their open disregard for the Constitution when it comes to the basic freedoms under which this democracy has operated. It's time to rein in the domestic spying.

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Anonymous Culture of Tr√úth said...

Hey, I agree, and I get accused of "defending Jane Harman." Sure, she, of all people, defended warrantless wiretapping, but that's just what makes her a good test case.

4:08 PM  

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