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Terror, Intelligence and You: Partners at the Fear Ballet

Have we become a nation that values intelligence and secrecy over individual rights and government transparency?

Have we become a nation that values intelligence and secrecy over individual rights and government transparency?

Can we as a nation be secure without having to dominate those abroad in never-ending wars, while single-handedly garrisoning the world? At the onset, I acknowledge that intelligence is important and that certain information must be kept secret. Nonetheless, when intelligence and secrecy are used to control and manipulate public opinion, hide embarrassing mistakes, foster political gain, or deny basic human rights, they become counterproductive to the American way of life.

In the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s failed attempt to convert the world to Communism, the United States found a new global threat against which to focus its efforts. In our war against the tactic of terrorism, we use color charts to represent threat levels, duct tape and plastic to ward off danger, and colorful scenarios derived from enhanced interrogation to justify draconian action. Today, if an American is not afraid, he is a coward–and if an American defends an “Unlawful Enemy Combatant’s” basic human right to a fair trial, he may be considered a traitor in the “homeland.”

If there is one thing that is consistent about US intelligence, it is that it is consistently wrong. In the past decade, intelligence apparatus similar to one of Orwell’s ministries warned of frogmen attacking the Brooklyn Bridge, crop dusters of death, poisoned water supplies, dirty bombs, and devastating attacks by bus, train, truck, limousine, and helicopter. These warnings have been based upon undisclosed sources and methods, kept secret in the interest of “national security.” Conveniently, such fanciful scenarios have fit nicely into American media culture, where international super villains attempt to control the Earth on a daily basis, and where American heroes like 24′s Jack Bauer have no choice but to employ brutality and torture for the greater good.

All this ultimately leads to “indefinite detention,” the notion that the same people who brought you such reliable information in the past should now be trusted to determine certain individuals must be presumed guilty and confined for the rest of their lives without trial. It is, in no uncertain terms, a complete deprivation of liberty without due process–and a complete departure from essential, time-tested American values. Nonetheless, “indefinite detention” gathers widespread support through the fear-driven notions of protecting “national security” and fighting the “war on terror.”

But make no mistake. If government is permitted to disregard the rule of law in the name of “national security,” such unbridled action is unlikely to be applied only against foreign nationals. As a result, if only to protect our own freedom, every American citizen must demand that, before condemning any human being to confinement for life, a government must prove some actual criminal offense, beyond a reasonable doubt, in a fair, open, and transparent court proceeding, at a minimum.

By rejecting the notion of “ignorance as strength,” I believe we may find a new sense of security as close as Guantanamo Bay. It is essential that we return to the basic American principals of individual freedom, justice, and transparency, while understanding that secrecy, surveillance, and blind faith ultimately make us less secure. As individual American’s we should never forget that holding government accountable is our best hope of survival as a free people. Today, it may be my client, Fayiz al-Kandari, but tomorrow it may be you.

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