Former New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton says he will approve any plan or police action that makes the city safer from the threat of a terrorist attack. On the surface, it sounds logical and maybe even a little comforting, but this explicit endorsement of the ends justifying the means should give any citizens in a democracy the willies.
Bratton's comments were made after it was reported New York police fanned out over the northeastern United States and spied on mosques, intercepted or eavesdropped on conversations between Muslim Americans and investigated Muslims who had Americanized their names. In Newark, New Jersey, New York cops infiltrated mosques and took pictures of all who attended services. They set up databases and dossiers on American citizens with no probable cause. They lied to Newark police, and departments all over the area, telling them they were engaged in undercover operations. Newark's mayor, Cory Booker, says he never would have cooperated with them, or facilitated their spying, if he knew the truth. New Jersey governor Chris Christie says he too is troubled by the actions of New York's finest. Bratton says he would do it again.
The spying controversy comes on the heels of revelations Bratton and his commanders showed an inflammatory and error filled anti-Muslim movie as part of anti-terrorist training sessions within the department. Thousands of cops saw a piece of scurrilous propaganda about Islam and its American adherents, terrorism and the patriotism of American Muslims. When first questioned, New York police officials lied and said the movie had only been seen by a small number of officers. They only fessed up when confronted with irrefutable facts it had been used to propagandize thousands of New York cops.
We sit here in America living under the shadow of the Patriot Act, National security letters (used to find out what books we are reading, movies rented and all under a penalty of imprisonment if anyone reveals the spying), data mining and illegal wiretaps and surveillance as the 4th Amendment is being legislated out of existence. Stopping terrorism is the end and secretly spying on Americans, bugging their home computers in secret, listening to their phone calls, reading their emails and spying on them at worship are some of the ends being used.
The New York Police Commissioner should be fired for his position on the actions of his department. Anyone in a position of power who facilely dismisses complaints about violations of civil liberties and government overreach, cannot be trusted to preserve rights which the founding fathers considered essential for a free people.
Ten years after September 11th, it is time to have an adult conversation about terrorism and civil liberties. Americans are easily frightened, and when frightened they stampede toward the most prominent parental figure they can find. Americans have always been willing to trade freedom for the illusion of security. Now, however, someone has to start truth telling. No terrorist attack will ever destroy the United States. No terrorists could destroy our government or way of life. Terrorists cannot occupy this nation, destroy its infrastructure or cause a political collapse. They can scare us, kill some of us, (no I don't take this lightly), disrupt our daily lives, but they represent no threat to our national security. Realistically, Al Qaeda took its best shot. The irony is Osama Bin Laden understood us better than we understood ourselves. He knew no outside force could conquer the United States. He also knew Americans, easily scared, will cannibalize each other, and the foundations of this country, to feel safe. September 11th wasn't as disastrous as Pearl Harbor; yet, the aftermath reaction has weakened this nation in ways even Bin Laden didn't dare to dream. Our civil liberties are a mere shadow of their former selves. We started two unnecessary wars which economically drained us, caused almost 7,000 deaths, and hundreds of thousands of wounded and broke the military in ways which may never be fixed.
Now, using the same event as justification, New York cops swarm across their region, outside their jurisdiction, to spy and catalog the actions of law abiding Americans who happen to be members of Islam. They lie to get local police departments to cooperate with them and they illegally engage in activity with no probable cause in clear violation of the 4th amendment.
Bratton isn't the first, and won't be the last, to invoke ends justifying means. Bush, Cheney et.al. used the same rationale to set up secret torture chambers and prisons. The National Security Agency (NSA) was used to vacuum up every electronic piece of communication between Americans based on an illegal order from President Bush. Telecom companies rolled over and played dead when asked to betray their customer's privacy. A feckless and spineless Congress, led by Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, granted the telecoms immunity from lawsuits or prosecution. (Obama supported this as well) Recently, proposals have been put forth to enable the President to shut down the internet in the interests of national security (similar to what we saw in Egypt, Libya, Syria, Iran and other bastions of democracy) The American people have remained compliant and complacent as they watch all of this unfold.
I do not expect Americans to rise up en masse and demand a restoration of their rights. For some reason I will never understand, Americans still buy the myth only people who have something to hide need to worry about their liberty or the constitution. There are over 4,500 laws on the books today which can land you in federal prison even if you had no intention of breaking them or even realized you had been guilty. Whoever has the discretion to charge you, your wife or husband, children, friends or neighbors, has the power of a classic dictator...here in America. Imagine Commissioner Bratton with that much power.
While I expect no uprising, I hope when Americans hear a police authority state unequivocally he will do "anything" to keep his city safe, it will send chills up and down their spines. I can hope can't I? What do you think?