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Authoritarianism Has Quietly Enveloped Every Part of American Life -- We Must Fight Back

Privacy, not surveillance, is what must be justified now. We must make sure not to draw the wrong lessons from Boston.

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Republican Rep. Peter King's  recent call for law enforcement to “realize that the threat is coming from the Muslim community and increase surveillance there” was the most explicit endorsement of a largely-in-place policy that many Americans would prefer to ignore.

Guantanamo Bay should still be closed down, and the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights' claim that the prison is “in clear breach of international law” still should matter. The hunger strike there, now  officially at 84 detainees, remains a problem that the Obama administration must examine and determine how to solve. And though the  suggestion by Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain that Tsarnaev be held in military custody was widely and correctly mocked, the Obama administration has overseen the institutionalization of military commissions at Guantanamo. That alternate legal universe that could very easily be employed by a president in the future, especially in the event of a terrorist attack that more closely resembles 9/11. 

The secret law that determines how the executive branch kills US citizens, suspected al Qaeda operatives, and individuals whose identities aren't even known in signature strikes should still be made public to the greatest extentpossible. The inappropriately-named targeted killing program should be made more transparent, and should have clear checks and balances put in place. The secrecy under which the Obama administration operates is still contra to democracy, and their war on whistleblowers is as grave a threat as ever.

Those arrested on US soil still should be read  Miranda rights immediately, and if the “public safety exception” must be invoked it should be for minutes, not hours or days.

People in the United States should still be guaranteed 4th amendment protection against illegal searches, including from the domestic drone expansion that is very likely on the near horizon. As Glenn Greenwald has  previously articulated, surveillance changes the kind of thoughts you can have. It limits not only what you're willing to say or do, but actually how you think. People under surveillance – or even the presumption of surveillance – self-sensor, and are much more likely to conform to accepted orthodoxies.

In a world of assumed total surveillance – a panopticon –  dissent is impossible, and therefore renders elected officials even less responsive to those they claim to represent. When – not if – the next Occupy-style social unrest happens, tools that have been sharpened and tested on so-called national security matters will be used against activists, and the crackdown will be spectacular. That phenomenon is already occurring, but will only grow unless there is a massive and concerted push-back.

Most importantly, terrorism is – and should be treated as –  a crime, not an act of war. The horrific bombing in Boston ended the lives of three people, physically harmed more than 170 others, and permanently altered the lives of everyone who witnessed the event or knows someone who was hurt. We should do everything to make their recovery as full and immediate as possible. What we should not do is continue to pursue policies that make us all less free, and disproportionately impact Muslims and Arabs.


John Knefel is the co-host of Radio Dispatch and a freelance writer based in Brooklyn. Follow him on Twitter at @johnknefel.
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