Spying and Torture: Don't Go There

There is something George W. Bush should understand, being that he's a dry drunk; one is too many and a thousand never enough.

That little rule of thumb is doubly true of torture and spying on fellow Americans. Justifying one water-boarding becomes justification for the next, and the next until, before you know it, torture becomes not just another tool in the box, but the tool of choice.

The same goes for spying on one another. Humans are born suspicious of one another. Just try handing a baby to a stranger and see what happens. Distrust is programmed right into our DNA, and it knows no bounds. Employers and employees share a mutual distrust of one another. Parents don't trust their own kids unless they're right under their noses. And we trust those we don't know anything about least of all.

So, when the President of the United States gives the nation's most technologically intrusive spy agency, the NSA, the green light to snoop on U.S. citizens it's not just another legalistic nuance, it's a sea change, a very dangerous one.

Why? Because there really is only about six degrees of separation between all of us. One monitored individual's phone calls, for example, inevitably leads to dozens of other suspects. Which leads to the next inevitable question: Who are they? And then: Are they part of it? (Whatever the it, real, feared or just imagined, may be.)

If Bush wants to know where domestic spying leads a nation all he has to do is have one of his aides read aloud to him some of the millions of files the East German Stasi compiled on its own citizens.

"The Stasi's influence over almost every aspect of life in the German Democratic Republic cannot be overestimated. Until the mid-1980s, a civilian network of informants grew within both Germanys, East and West. By the East German collapse in 1989, it is estimated that the Stasi had 91,000 full-time employees and 300,000 informants. This means approximately one in fifty East Germans collaborated with the Stasi, one of the highest penetrations of any society by an organization....The Stasi monitored politically incorrect behavior among all citizens of East Germany. During the 1989 peaceful revolution, the Stasi offices were overrun by enraged citizens, but not before a huge amount of compromising material was destroyed by Stasi officers. The remaining files are available for review to all people who were reported upon, often revealing that friends, colleagues, husbands, wives, and other family members were regularly filing reports with the Stasi."
An extreme example? Not at all. You can be certain that if we could get unfettered access to the intel files of Israel, Egypt, Libya, Russia, China and other nations with neither the scruples or constitutional limits on domestic spying, we'd find Stasi-like files there too.

Domestic spying attracts folks that suffer from a kind of obsessive compulsive disorder. Once they begin collecting information on fellow citizens, they can't stop themselves. All that's required is that you come to their attention. After that, they must know all they can about you: your finances, your habits, your thoughts, your friends, your family. It must all be observed, examined, categorized, kept and updated.

The President contends that we must make an exception to the usual rules because the nation is at war -- a "different kind of war." Our enemy this time is not a nation but "terrorists." And who are these enemies? We can't be sure. They travel. Some come here. Some are here already.

So who are the enemies within? After 9/11 it was just young Arab men. But then a young American, John Walker Lindh, was caught fighting in Afghanistan. And another American, Jose Padilla, was caught hanging with al Qaeda types. The enemy within suddenly had an American face. So, the Pentagon was given the green light to spy on Americans. And who did they catch? A group of Quaker anti-war activists.

The Quaker peace activists were detailed in a Pentagon risk assessment list as a "serious threat." How can a group that espouses non-violence be a serious threat to national security? Ideologically, of course. The Pentagon has a long memory and it has not forgotten how the peace moment of the '60s and '70s spread, causing the U.S. -- in Pentagon-think -- to "lose the Vietnam War." So the Quakers had to be collected.

That meant someone had to report on the Quaker group's meetings. Who? Someone the group considered "one of them." Betrayal, Stasi style.

That's where unhindered domestic spying always leads. Friends report on friends, neighbors on neighbors, teachers on students, students on teachers, even children on parents. It's a chain reaction of paranoia, a self-generating, self-perpetuating daisy-chain of deception, deceit and betrayal.

Bush needs to remember the hard lesson he learned about booze - that one is never enough. Just don't go there. Ditto on torture and domestic spying. But is it already too late? Has America fallen off the 4th Amendment wagon? Has binge spying already begun?

President Bush says no, his administration is not on a binge. They are just engaging in a bit of social spying. We should not worry because they can stop any time they want. He wants us to let them torture a few more prisoners and spy on a few more Americans. Then they'll go cold turkey on the stuff. Promise.

But the damage may already be done.
4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

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