A Republic If You Can Keep It

220px-BenFranklinDuplessisPresident_Barack_ObamaBelow is my column in Al Jazeera on the expansion of presidential powers in the United States. While there is growing recognition of the threat posed by the current powers exercised by the White House, it is important to keep the issue before the public if we are going to realign the tripartite system back to its original balance between the balances.

In the summer of 1787, a crowd gathered around Independence Hall to learn what type of government their representatives had formed for the new nation. When Benjamin Franklin walked out of the Constitutional Convention, Mrs Powel could wait no longer. Franklin was one of the best known of the “Framers” working on the new US Constitution. Powel ran up to Franklin and asked, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” Franklin turned to her and said what are perhaps the most chilling words uttered by any Framer. He said, “A republic, Madam, if you can keep it.”

Franklin’s words were more than a boast. They were a warning. The curious thing about a democratic system is that it contains the seeds of its own demise. Freedom is not something guaranteed by any parchment or promise. It is earned by each generation which must jealously protect it from threats, not only from outside, but from within a nation.

Some 226 years after those fateful words were uttered, the true import of Franklin’s warning has become all too real for Americans. The last 10 years has seen the rise of a security state of unprecedented size and the diminishment of privacy and core protections for citizens. Recently, a federal judge ruled that the massive NSA surveillance programme was unconstitutional. US District Court Judge Richard Leon not only said that the collection of “metadata” constitutes an unreasonable search or seizure, but that the Framers like Franklin would be “aghast” at the very thought of it.

The great irony is that the greatest loss of constitutional protections has occurred under a man who came to office promising to reform security laws and often refers to himself as a former constitutional law professor. An iconic figure for many liberals, President Barack Obama has divided the civil liberties community and expanded both the security state and his own unchecked powers. He has taken actions that would have made Richard Nixon blush – from warrantless surveillance to quashing dozens of privacy lawsuits, to claiming the right to kill any citizen, on his sole authority. He has also rolled back key international principles in expanding drone attacks and promising not to prosecute officials for torture.

Republican Senator Lindsay Graham scoffed at the notion that privacy is even relevant since only a terrorist would object to such powers.

War on privacy

With his healthcare programme mired in bureaucratic snafus and issues like gun control and immigration floundering in Congress, Obama is entering his final years in office with few clear successes. One of his most notable and ignoble successes has been in his war on privacy in the United States. Obama has not simply ordered massive surveillance of calls and emails of citizens, but he has campaigned to change people’s expectations of what privacy means. His administration advocates a surveillance-friendly form of privacy in a new fishbowl society where the government can track citizens in real time from their purchases and messages. Obama has attempted to convince citizens to trust the government and that they have nothing to fear because he will personally guarantee that these powers are not abused. At the same time, he has opposed any effort to get judicial review of these programs – beyond a laughable secret court with a history of rubber-stamping surveillance demands.

The result is a surveillance state of unprecedented size. Whistle blower Edward Snowden is now a hunted man under the protection of Russia. However, while Obama is demanding Snowden’s arrest, his Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has admitted to lying about the surveillance programmes before Congress. Yet, the Obama Administration has refused to investigate let alone prosecute him for perjury.

Snowden’s disclosures have revealed a massive surveillance system under Obama. The disclosures show that the US has intercepted communications of its closest allies like German Chancellor Andrea Merkel while intercepting calls around the world – 60 million calls in Spain alone. For US citizens, the government has created an almost total transparency in the collection of hundreds of millions of calls and emails. These calls are stored and security officials have instant access to information on the location, time and duration of communications. The Obama Administration has also put journalists under surveillance in an assault on the freedom of the press.

Other politicians have chimed in that only people with something to hide would be concerned over such surveillance. Thus, Republican Senator Lindsay Graham scoffed at the notion that privacy is even relevant since only a terrorist would object to such powers.

‘Online promiscuity’

Of course, the government must often read your mail and listen to calls to determine if you are a terrorist…or just a target. A recent report documented how the National Security Agency has been gathering records of online sexual activity to be used to harm the reputation of people considered radicals. Among the targets is at least one individual identified as a “US person”. The NSA is gathering dirt such as “viewing sexually explicit material online”, and “using sexually explicit persuasive language when communicating with inexperienced young girls”. Shawn Turner, director of public affairs for National Intelligence, responded to media requests with little more than a shrug, saying such activities “should not be surprising” since the “the US government uses all of the lawful tools at our disposal” against people deemed enemies of the state. Of course, it is available at their disposal because of increased and unchecked powers assumed by this President.

Inside Story – The diplomatic cost of US surveillance
This “watch list” apparently includes people with unpopular views. The published documents refer to one target as attracting the NSA’s ire by arguing that, “Non-Muslims are a threat to Islam,” and then identified his vulnerability as “online promiscuity”. Another academic dared to write in support of the concept of “offensive jihad” and so the NSA targeted him for his “online promiscuity” and noted he “publishes articles without checking facts”.

Bush Administration officials are already applauding Obama for his administration’s gathering of dirt on targeted individuals. Indeed, supporters are now citing the president’s “kill list” as a rationale for this new controversial system under a lesser evil rationale. Stewart Baker, former general counsel for the NSA in the George W Bush administration, insisted that, “on the whole, it’s fairer and maybe more humane” than vaporizing them.

In a prior conference, Obama repeated the siren call of authoritarians throughout history: While these powers are great, our motives are benign. So there you have it. The government is promising to better protect you if you just surrender this last measure of privacy. Perhaps we deserve little better. After all, it was Benjamin Franklin who warned: “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University and has testified before Congress on the dangerous expansion of presidential powers.

70 thoughts on “A Republic If You Can Keep It

  1. gotta love those who are trying their hardest to make a case for the loss of life.liberty, rights and freedoms. it has never occured to them that obama and his octupus handlers are behind every war, attack and terrorist action that has plagued the world..

    ex lets start from the titanic a ship that was made to be unsinkable it hit one little iceberg just one sos calls that were supposed to be sent out never were. coast guard boats waiting in the middle of the ocean were never signalled. and BAM the titanic hit a iceberg and mysteriously sunk!!!!???? are you kidding me? really 2500 people lost their lives what amazes me is that the the titanic hit a iceberg and there wasnt even a crack in the iceberg but the titanic sank…. answer to question insurance scam

    http://henrymakow.com/was_sinking_the_titanic.html

    The Olympic, damaged in a collision and destined for the scrapyard, may have been disguised as its sister ship, the Titanic. This raises questions about the true nature of the “accident”

    In 1908, financier J.P. Morgan planned a brand new class of luxury liners that would enable the wealthy to cross the Atlantic in previously undreamed-of opulence. The construction of the giant vessels, the ‘Olympic’, the ‘Titanic’ and the ‘Britannic,’ began in 1909 at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, Ireland.

    Unfortunately for Morgan, this money-making venture went a little awry. The Olympic, the first of the three sister-ships to be completed was involved in a serious collision with the British Royal Navy cruiser, HMS Hawke in September 1911 in Southampton a few weeks after its maiden voyage. It had to be ‘patched-up’ before returning to Belfast to undergo proper repair work.

    In hindsight, it does seem strange that the Olympic, the first of the ‘sisters’ to enter service, was never given the publicity her younger sister, the Titanic, enjoyed the following year Why would that be?

    EVERY WAR WE WERE FORCED INTO turned out to make who rich? and how did our youth of each war end up?

    9/11 3 tower buildings that held all the major offices of all the high powered corporations.. also built to be unsinkable, immune to bombing, etc.. suddenly went down with 2 planes hitting the middle of 2 of the towers and yet 3 towers went completely down with the 3rd tower not even being touched by a plane, debris, etc…. 3,000 lives lost all jews told to stay home that day. 600 of the 3,000 were workers for canter fitzgerald which was the biggest and best brokerage house operating in the world at the time it was also being shut down and broken up. and all 600 workers were there that day and all died. 4 planes hijacked by syrians with box cutters and one bb gun with the air force performing flying exercises in the new york area told to stand down.

    I can go on and one but it isnt my job to convince all of you to STOP BEING SHEEPLE to the lies, and paying for 13 ruling lying pathetic families to enslave you… its not my job to do your research for you. to show you just how brainwashed you all are… im going to post one last piece of history and if you arent convinced by it then you never will and DO NOT WANT TO BE..

    Rosa Parks during a time when black men and women were killed for just looking at white people… sat at the front of a bus and when told to go to the back refused.. now thousands of blacks had been tortured and killed for less but somehow Rosa Parks defied a white bus driver and a precinct full of cops not only to live but to become a pivotal pioneer of civil rights???!!!!???? really? and exactly what made Rosa so much better then the thousands of blacks killed long before and after her??

    and for those of you who do not know im a 45 year old black single parent of 4 children…. i even have a face book page lol Robin Hairs is the name

  2. **A Republic If You Can Keep It

    1, January 5, 2014 by jonathanturley
    **

    Excellent article professor Turley.

    By all means keep up the fight.

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  4. randyjet

    Dredd, the FACT is that suspending the writ of habeas corpus is a part of the US Constitution in case of invasion or civil insurrection. The FACT is that the SCOTUS has repeatedly ruled that the government has that power as a legitimate power under the Constitution and that the internment of people during WWII was perfectly LEGAL

    ===============================
    Of course, then, you can cite to the S.Ct. cases that say it is ok at this time to intern American citizens because of their race, national origin, or ethnicity?

    If not, you are advocating a deranged ideology, not constitutional law.

    • Dredd, the Constitution is very clear as to when the writ of habeas corpus can be suspended and says nothing about interning persons In peacetime. There is NO such order or law claimed by Obama, nor any person who is interned under such reasons as ethnicity, race, or national origin. In time of war, there is a large body of law unfortunately, which voids much of our constitutional rights. It is not restricted to times of invasion, or civil insurrection as laid out in that document. One of the worst examples are the laws passed during WWI in which free speech, press, assembly, etc.. were all voided even though there was no danger of invasion or civil insurrection.

      A common sense reading of the Constitution and ample precedent has established that the President, FDR in this case, has the power to do the interning of any person given the fact of Japanese invasion of US territory.

      My e-mail is randyjet, and that is why sometimes my posts come up with either name. I think that most folks here know me by both names.

  5. randyjet

    I did not say torture is good or lawful, so save your strawman arguments for the more ignorant readers. I also did not say the NSA spying is legal either.

    ======================
    I only responded to Arthur Randolph Erb, not to you when I talked about that in response to ARE.

    Because you did not say it, but ARE did.

    So, are you his pocket rocket, jet sock puppet, little jet brother, or simply jet confused?

    Never mind, I answered my own question it seems.

  6. Excellent column. We’re in more trouble than many realize.

    Chris Hedges, yesterday:

    The Last Gasp of American Democracy

    Posted on Jan 5, 2014

    Excerpts:

    The Stasi did not set up massive death camps and gulags. It did not have to. The Stasi, with a network of as many as 2 million informants in a country of 17 million, was everywhere. There were 102,000 secret police officers employed full time to monitor the population—one for every 166 East Germans. The Nazis broke bones; the Stasi broke souls. The East German government pioneered the psychological deconstruction that torturers and interrogators in America’s black sites, and within our prison system, have honed to a gruesome perfection.

    Advertisement
    The goal of wholesale surveillance, as Arendt wrote in “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” is not, in the end, to discover crimes, “but to be on hand when the government decides to arrest a certain category of the population.” And because Americans’ emails, phone conversations, Web searches and geographical movements are recorded and stored in perpetuity in government databases, there will be more than enough “evidence” to seize us should the state deem it necessary. This information waits like a deadly virus inside government vaults to be turned against us. It does not matter how trivial or innocent that information is. In totalitarian states, justice, like truth, is irrelevant.

    The object of efficient totalitarian states, as George Orwell understood, is to create a climate in which people do not think of rebelling, a climate in which government killing and torture are used against only a handful of unmanageable renegades. The totalitarian state achieves this control, Arendt wrote, by systematically crushing human spontaneity, and by extension human freedom. It ceaselessly peddles fear to keep a population traumatized and immobilized. It turns the courts, along with legislative bodies, into mechanisms to legalize the crimes of state.

    The ability of the citizenry to take self-corrective measures is effectively stymied. And in the end, as in all totalitarian systems, the citizens become the victims of government folly, monstrous lies, rampant corruption and state terror.

    The Romanian poet Paul Celan captured the slow ingestion of an ideological poison—in his case fascism—in his poem “Death Fugue”:

    Black milk of dawn we drink it at dusk
    we drink it at noon and at daybreak we drink it at night
    we drink it and drink it
    we are digging a grave in the air there’s room for us all

    We, like those in all emergent totalitarian states, have been mentally damaged by a carefully orchestrated historical amnesia, a state-induced stupidity. We increasingly do not remember what it means to be free. And because we do not remember, we do not react with appropriate ferocity when it is revealed that our freedom has been taken from us. The structures of the corporate state must be torn down. Its security apparatus must be destroyed. And those who defend corporate totalitarianism, including the leaders of the two major political parties, fatuous academics, pundits and a bankrupt press, must be driven from the temples of power. Mass street protests and prolonged civil disobedience are our only hope. A failure to rise up—which is what the corporate state is counting upon—will see us enslaved.

  7. Excerpt from Hedges’ column (link, above):

    “The ability of the citizenry to take self-corrective measures is effectively stymied. And in the end, as in all totalitarian systems, the citizens become the victims of government folly, monstrous lies, rampant corruption and state terror.

    The Romanian poet Paul Celan captured the slow ingestion of an ideological poison—in his case fascism—in his poem “Death Fugue”:

    Black milk of dawn we drink it at dusk
    we drink it at noon and at daybreak we drink it at night
    we drink it and drink it
    we are digging a grave in the air there’s room for us all

    We, like those in all emergent totalitarian states, have been mentally damaged by a carefully orchestrated historical amnesia, a state-induced stupidity. We increasingly do not remember what it means to be free. And because we do not remember, we do not react with appropriate ferocity when it is revealed that our freedom has been taken from us. The structures of the corporate state must be torn down. Its security apparatus must be destroyed. And those who defend corporate totalitarianism, including the leaders of the two major political parties, fatuous academics, pundits and a bankrupt press, must be driven from the temples of power. Mass street protests and prolonged civil disobedience are our only hope. A failure to rise up—which is what the corporate state is counting upon—will see us enslaved.”

    • Anon, I wish that you and Hedges would take your own advice and remember history about civil liberties in the US. I DO remember the McCarthy era, and during Vietnam when there were massive violations of freedoms. Then since you were obviously not involved in the Civil Rights movement, you have no memory of the state sponsored murders, mass incarcerations, and state sponsored terrorism that is FAR worse than ANYTHING we have now. There are so many daily items of oppression that were a fact of life back then that I do not have time to list all of them. In fact, compared to back then, we are FAR better off. While I disagree with most of the state snooping being done, it is relatively benign compared to the past when a person would be sent to prison for their politics and lawful activity. In many states the authorities were free to murder their political opponents and did. When you can show me a similar plethora of crimes on the part of the states or government, then I and most Americans will do what is needed.

      Just because you don’t win an election or your candidate or program does not win, does NOT mean there is a dictatorship. Let the rightwing nuts play that idiotic game.

      • randyjet wrote: “While I disagree with most of the state snooping being done, it is relatively benign compared to the past when a person would be sent to prison for their politics and lawful activity. In many states the authorities were free to murder their political opponents and did.”

        I wish you would explain what you mean. Give us some specifics. Name political prisoners of the U.S. who did not engage in unlawful activity, such as throwing rocks, trespassing, engaging in sit-ins, stirring up violent riots which destroyed property and maimed people, engaged in smoking illegal substances, public nudity, etc. Who was ever imprisoned simply for their political views? Name the political opponents who were murdered. Some of us apparently are not as old as you, and we are grossly ignorant of these incidents that you seem to assume we know about.

        • david it is hard to believe that you are so ignorant of US history. To start with relatively recent history meaning WWII and after. The Smith Act was applied to the leading members of the Socialist Workers Party in which they went to prison for their politics. Then after the beginning of the Cold War over 50 members of the CPUSA went to prison for the same “crime”, and a couple of them were executed with the collusion of the prison authorities. The SCOTUS later ruled most of that act unconstitutional and no further charges were brought. Then during Vietnam, you are ignorant of the trial of Dr. Spock, the baby doctor not of the Enterprise and Sloan Coffin for making anti-war speeches advocating resistance to the war and the draft. The political opponents who were murdered are too numerous to mention, especially in the south. One of the best known is Medgar Evers who the Jackson airport is now named after, which I really appreciate since I fly into Jackson and it gives me GREAT satisfaction. There were literally thousands in that category. Then there is one of my own union, Karen Silkwood who was murdered by persons unknown.

          Then Nixon or some persons in the CIA ordered the murder of Charles Horman by the Chilean fascist in the coup. Check out the Jack Lemon film MISSING. Then a US citizen, Ronnie Moffet who was an assistant to Leitelier was murdered by a bomb planted by US affiliated operatives and a US citizen in Washington DC. Then under Reagan, Ben Linder, a US citizen who was working as a civil engineer in Nicaragua was murdered by the Contras on the orders of the CIA. Then there is the CIA bombing of the press conference of Eden Pastora in Nicaragua which severly injured many US journalists who were covering that press briefing. I like most thought that the Sandinistas had done it, until it came out that it was the CIA who had planted the bomb because Pastora hated the others in the Contra movement and refused to work with the thugs. Speaking of thugs, all you have to do is to look at your buddies on the right who are well experienced with murders from the Cuban exiles who murdered any persons who disagreed with them.

          Then before WWII, there were the labor wars in which companies and corrupt judges, sheriffs, and cops routinely jailed union members. The West Virginia coal wars and in Colorado in which law enforcement person who tried to enforce the law were executed. In West Virginia, one sheriff was forced to appear in the neighboring county, and he was executed on the court house steps and the local sheriff who was the paid agent of the coal companies refused to arrest the murderers. I suggest you do some research about US labor history which is where most of the crimes were committed. Then we have the cases during WWI, in which people were sent to prison for voicing criticism in a letter to the editor of the capitalist system. That person did seven years. Eugene Debs of course went to prison for being opposed to aspects of WWI. In Texas it was illegal to speak German and any law enforcement officer would send a person to prison for doing so. During WWII, The Militant was banned for printing the truth about some of the abuses of many of the government contractors. The crime was in telling the truth, but no person went to prison for that one at least since Truman as a Sen. headed a commission to investigate similar charges. I think you need to do some serious reading and learning.

          • randyjet wrote: “I think you need to do some serious reading and learning.”

            We were talking about Nixon, and here you go all over the map including a person murdered by a white supremacist and another person killed while living in war zone in another country. You mention only one person you claim was ordered killed by Nixon. Can you at least provide a link to the declassified kill memo for me? I’m skeptical. Why do you believe it? And I’m still waiting for info on the political prisoners of Nixon.

            • davidm You were NOT only talking about Nixon since you asked about political prisoners and murders in the USA that were government sanctioned or ordered. I doubt that Nixon got or made kill orders for specific persons. HE did authorize the agencies to do any actions that they thought appropriate including killing US citizens who were politically inconvenient. With the exception of Bin Laden, I doubt Obama does that either. I recall Obama even said in the debates with Clinton and McCain that he would order an attack anywhere in the world, especially Pakistan if he was there. This is in contrast to W Bush who said on nationwide TV that he did not much care any more about Bin Laden. I wonder why YOU did not come out of your seat as I did when I heard that weak kneed coward say that.

              The FACT is that as the HMFIC, Nixon is responsible for the actions of his subordinates. Or as Truman used to say, the BUCK stops here. Of course, I have yet to hear a GOP major figure say such a thing. In fact, I have never heard even a CEO say that with few exceptions, and in fact most of them don’t bother taking the oaths they sign as to the accuracy of their corporate statement seriously either. I do hold Obama responsible for the drone attacks as he also does. I support his actions in this regards as well. I only wish that they would make more sure that bombs are not being wasted on the undeserving.

              • randyjet wrote: “You were NOT only talking about Nixon since you asked about political prisoners and murders in the USA that were government sanctioned or ordered. I doubt that Nixon got or made kill orders for specific persons.”

                Finally, we are back on earth with both feet firmly planted.

                Your original post led me to think you personally had knowledge that I lacked. Now we seem to be on the same page of history. Thank you.

                Here was your original post:
                ======================
                Since I and others who I know personally were the targets of Nixon’s illegal activities, you are woefully ignorant of the full extent of his criminal actions. Then there is his statement that if the President orders it, it is legal which is FAR beyond anything that some accuse Obama of doing. Nixon was worse since he ordered or allowed the murder of US citizens who were not engaged in any illegal acts against the US or acts of violence. At least the persons who have been killed overseas were clearly outside all laws and were engaged in violent warfare against the US. As I pointed out earlier, if the US kills any Muslim students on spring break enjoying the beaches in Afghanistan, Yemen, or Pakistan, THEN I most certainly will join the chorus denouncing such killings.

                If you can find similar actions of Obama getting people fired from their jobs for their political views, getting records of bank accounts illegally, sending the IRS against his opponents, breaking and entering residences, burglary, theft, illegal wire taps, attempted and actual murder in the US of US citizens, and many other criminal activities, THEN you might have a point. In fact, the US is a FAR freer country now than when I was growing up and for much of my adult life. THAT is why there is no such outcry against Obama since I and millions of others DO remember the reality of those bad old days. In short, GIVE US A BREAK when you call Nixon not as bad as the current situation.
                =======================

                And hours later you mentioned Civil Rights movement and Vietnam which basically culminated with Nixon.
                =======================
                I DO remember the McCarthy era, and during Vietnam when there were massive violations of freedoms. Then since you were obviously not involved in the Civil Rights movement, you have no memory of the state sponsored murders, mass incarcerations, and state sponsored terrorism that is FAR worse than ANYTHING we have now. There are so many daily items of oppression that were a fact of life back then that I do not have time to list all of them. In fact, compared to back then, we are FAR better off. While I disagree with most of the state snooping being done, it is relatively benign compared to the past when a person would be sent to prison for their politics and lawful activity. In many states the authorities were free to murder their political opponents and did. When you can show me a similar plethora of crimes on the part of the states or government, then I and most Americans will do what is needed.
                ======================

                Although I still don’t know what you really had in mind when you wrote these things, I am satisfied with your more recent post that I am not missing some important knowledge of history here.

  8. -“I will provide our intelligence and law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to track and take out the terrorists without undermining our Constitution and our freedom. That means no more illegal wiretapping of American citizens. No more national security letters to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime. That is not who we are.”
    Barrack Obama 2007

  9. “I thought I would read The Burglary for a few minutes while I waited for my plane to take off. Six hours later my eyes had not left the pages…It is astonishingly good, marvelously written…It’s a masterpiece.”

    – Dan Ellsberg, military analyst who made the Pentagon Papers public

    http://www.theburglary.com/

  10. randyjet a.k.a. Arthur Randolf Erb,

    Dredd … My e-mail is randyjet, and that is why sometimes my posts come up with either name. I think that most folks here know me by both names.
    —————–
    … the FACT is that suspending the writ of habeas corpus is a part of the US Constitution in case of invasion or civil insurrection.
    ==============================
    Ok guys.

    The problem is that the text contemplate an invasion by a foreign nation, or a civil insurrection by domestic enemies.

    That does not apply when we invade foreign nations, or when the neoCon domestic enemies of the constitution cause civil insurrection.

    Besides, suspending the writ of habeas corpus does not suspend the other 99% of the constitution.

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