News + Opinion » Opinion

Runaway power

Editorial by Bruce Wark

by

It's hard to believe the United States is sliding rapidly toward military dictatorship. But the latest list of under-reported news stories from Project Censored makes it clear that president Bush now has all the legal powers he needs to impose a police state. He can order mass arrests and imprison anyone indefinitely without charge or trial. He can dispatch the armed forces and National Guard "to suppress, in any state, any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy." He can declare martial law after "a natural disaster, epidemic, or other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident, or any other condition" in which he alone determines that domestic violence is out of control.

"Most people in the US believe in our Bill of Rights and value personal freedoms," says Peter Phillips, director of Project Censored. "Yet, our corporate media in the past year failed to inform us about serious changes in our civil rights and liberties." Phillips, a sociology prof at California's Sonoma State University, led more than 200 faculty, students and alternative journalists in compiling this year's list of 25 under-reported stories. It's the 31st year the list has been published. The number one story says the American mainstream media failed to notice that Bush quietly signed a law on October 17, 2006 allowing him to designate any American citizen an "enemy of the state" and to order the US military to imprison such "enemies" indefinitely. "In effect, what the new law appears to do," writes veteran journalist Robert Parry, who broke the story on his Consortium News website, "is to create a parallel "star chamber' system for the prosecution, imprisonment, and possible execution of enemies of the state."

On the same day, Bush signed another law allowing him to dispatch troops anywhere in the US and to take control of state-based National Guard units without the consent of local authorities. The law overrides a 129-year-old statute that made it a crime to direct US military operations against the American people. According to Project Censored, the measure, backed by a $532.8 billion budget, "facilitates militarized police round-ups of protesters, so-called illegal aliens, potential terrorists and other undesirables for detention in facilities already contracted and under construction."

Project Censored's number six story describes "Operation Falcon"—three massive police raids in which more than 30,000 people were rounded up in 2005 and 2006. It was the largest police dragnet in US history and the first time "all of the domestic police agencies have been put under the direct control of the federal government." The US Attorney General claimed the raids were aimed at "the worst of the worst" criminals, including sex offenders, but according to Project Censored, less than 10 percent turned out to be suspected sex offenders. Journalist Mike Whitney, who wrote about the raids for various alternative publications, says Operation Falcon established a precedent allowing an American president to take control of the country's police forces "at a moment's notice."

Project Censored's story number 20 describes the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act that Bush signed into law last November. It imposes harsh penalties, including prison sentences, for anyone convicted of interfering with or harming "any enterprise that uses or sells animals or animal products." The American Civil Liberties Union warns that such activities as demonstrations, consumer boycotts and leafleting to advocate the humane treatment of animals may be punishable as acts of terror—an example of peaceful dissent being swept up into the endless War on Terrorism. Combine all this with Bush's warrantless surveillance of emails, phone calls and credit card transactions, his use of secret prisons, kidnapping and torture, and it's plain that the danger of the US becoming a police state is frighteningly real. Some readers will say I'm overreacting. But why does an American president need dictatorial powers if he's not planning to use them?

Unleash the power of the internet to spread ideas: Email me at brucew@thecoast.ca or surf the latest Project Censored list at www.projectcensored.org.

Add a comment

Remember, it's entirely possible to disagree without spiralling into a thread of negativity and personal attacks. We have the right to remove (and you have the right to report) any comments that go against our policy.

xxx - Deprecated in favor of GTM, above.