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Is the U.S. Becoming a Police State?

Martin Luther King, the most celebrated dove in American history, was spied on because he was considered a threat. That means none of us is safe.
 
 
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''Special collection program'' is the euphemism that the National Security Agency uses for spying on American citizens without a warrant.

Because of the New York Times investigative report published last week, President Bush was forced to admit that he had ''reauthorized this program more than 30 times since the Sept. 11 attacks'' -- something he intends ''to do as our nation faces a continuing threat from al-Qaida.''

And this is why language is so important. People were calling Martin Luther King -- whose federalized birthday the nation will recognize next month -- a ''communist traitor'' in a Cold War political context. The most celebrated dove in American history was spied on because he was considered a threat by his own government. That means none of us is safe.

It also means anything can be justified under the banner of ''security,'' which is why those willing to give up their liberty in exchange for security deserve neither. Remember when President Bush joked that things would be easier if he were a dictator. I guess he wasn't joking.

Democrats and Republicans are now calling for a congressional investigation to determine if the president went beyond the Constitution.

Over the weekend, the president said he authorized the program to ''intercept the international communications of people with known links to al-Qaida,'' which doesn't inspire much confidence given this administration's now debunked claims of al-Qaida links to Saddam.

If you think it disrespectful to discuss dictators, President Bush and the Constitution in the same column, be sure to give John Dean a call. The former White House counsel under President Nixon wrote a paper in 2002 in which he discussed the possibility of a America becoming a ''constitutional dictatorship."

''The distinction between a 'constitutional dictator' and a strong president is remarkably thin, if nonexistent,'' he wrote. All this eavesdropping business reminded me of C. William Michael's 2002 book ' No Greater Threat: America After September 11 and the Rise of the National Security State.'

Besides providing a detailed analysis of the USA Patriot Act, he lays out the 12 most common characteristics of a national security state:

  • Visible increase in uniformed security. Got that?
  • Lack of accountability in law enforcement. George Tenet got a medal for his fine WMD work and ''Brownie'' was praised for doing a heckuva job in the Katrina aftermath;
  • Reduced judiciary and executive treatment of suspects. Can you say ''detainee?"
  • Secrecy of ruling authority and momentum of threat. It's an open secret that this administration has taken official secrecy to a whole new level;
  • Media in the service of the state. The Times held the eavesdropping story for a year, to say nothing of the WMD reporting of the major media in the run-up to the war
  • National resources devoted to security threat. The most recent budget passed in Congress speaks for itself;
  • Patriotism moving to nationalism. Since 9-11, America was divided in two -- between those who don't know the difference between patriotism and nationalism and those who are terrorist-sympathizing, blame-America-first traitors
  • Lack of critical response by religions. Name one prominent national church leader critical of the way U.S. power has been wielded. At this point, I'll settle for a religious leader who isn't telling their parishioners to vote Republican to stop abortion and gay rights or who isn't calling for the assassination of foreign leaders;
  • Wartime mentality and permanent war economy. See any Bush speech;
  • Targeted individuals and groups. Scott Ritter, Richard Clarke, Joseph Wilson, Cindy Sheehan and MoveOn.org come to mind;
  • Direct attack on dissent. See previous comment;
  • and

  • Increased surveillance of citizenry. Or as it's being called now, a ''special collection program.''

Sean Gonsalves is a Cape Cod Times staff reporter and a syndicated columnist.