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Battlefield America: Is Gitmo in Your Future?

A retired top CIA analyst ponders if he could be arrested and held under the Senate's new military detention policy.

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Worse still, a few of my neighbors overheard me telling my grandchildren that President Obama should be ashamed to be bragging about having Awlaki, an American citizen, and later his 16 year-old son murdered without a whiff of due process. “If you hear something, say something!”

A Lost Respect

Citizens of powerful countries used to have their rights widely respected — at home and abroad. “I am a Roman citizen”—“Civis Romanus Sum” – once counted for something. Even more respect tended to greet “I am an American” — because of our power abroad and our once famous adherence to a written Constitution at home.

Adherence? Lately not so much. Not since power-hungry politicians set out to exploit 9/11 so that “everything changed,” including even the rights formerly guaranteed us by the Bill of Rights and the habeas corpus protection in the Constitution itself.

Awlaki’s is an interesting case in point. A Muslim whose moderating influence was sought after by the Washington Establishment in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, he became “radicalized” by our warring on his fellow Muslims. By noting that little-known fact, am I showing “support” for “al-Qaeda, the Taliban or associated forces”? Will the U.S. military be obliged to target me, too?

“Not you, Grandpa,” my grandchildren reassured me at Thanksgiving. “Even with the beard and the hat, you don’t really look very much like Awlaki, or like any kind of terrorsymp. You look different; and your light skin and American citizenship should suffice to keep you safe.”

I agreed that I would probably be okay, even if I kept up my vocal criticism of what is happening. But, truth be told, I harbored doubts even on Thanksgiving. And that was before the Senate version of the defense appropriation bill passed last Thursday.

Civis Americanus Sum. Yes, I am. But does that really count for much today? It certainly offered no protection to Awlaki, or to his son. What’s to prevent one of my former colleagues at the military or the CIA — those I have roundly criticized for endorsing and cheering on the kidnappers, torturers and assassins in their employ — from adding me to the “kill-or-capture-but-preferably-kill list”?

What has been happening in this continuation of a seemingly endless “war on terror” – amid widespread public indifference – makes Richard Nixon’s “Enemies List” look like a board game. At least, the Nixon White House had a modicum of good sense not to flaunt its skirting the law and violating constitutional rights.

It is a safe bet that functionaries at the National Security Council are updating the kill-or-capture list even now, confident that President Obama will sign the Senate version of the bill into law once it gets predictably endorsed by the Republican-controlled House.

Then, what is to prevent NSC “counterterrorist” functionaries from summoning the go-to lawyers still ensconced in the Justice Department and asking them for help in navigating what appear to be deliberate ambiguities in the new bill’s language.

Backed by a John Yoo-style “legal justification,” an order could be issued to “terminate” me, while reassuring my neighbors that, yes, just as you suspected, he was a terrorsymp. Or maybe they’ll simply order some troops from the 82 nd Airborne at Fort Bragg, where I was stationed a half-century ago, to apprehend me and give me a free one-way ticket to Guantanamo.

After all, how bad could that be? Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld explained to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in June 2005 that the detainees at Guantanamo were “living in the tropics. They’re well fed. They’ve got everything they could possibly want.” And would Rumsfeld lie?