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Originally Published: 12/12/2007


By The Issue Wonk


According to Princeton University’s Wordnet, a police state is defined as “a country that maintains repressive control over the people by means of police (especially secret police).” Wikipedia expands on this terse definition and says:


The term police state is a term for a state in which the government exercises rigid and repressive controls over the social, economic and political life of the population, especially by means of a secret police force which operates outside the boundaries normally imposed by a constitutional republic. A police state typically exhibits elements of totalitarianism and social control, and there is usually little distinction between the law and the exercise of political power by the executive.


Is there evidence that the U.S. is becoming a police state? It seems clear that if you want to determine if we’re on our way to a police state you need to look at our Constitutional rights and if we still have them. I’ve reviewed this before. (See The Betrayal of America and What We’ve Lost) We have lost many of our rights. Still, in the minds of Americans, a police state is synonomous with the Gestapo-style tactics of Hitler’s Nazi Germany. However, Wolf explains that totalitarianism has occurred in many places, like Chile, Italy, and Russia, as well as Nazi Germany,1 and that it’s introduced in steps.2 These steps are accepted by the populace as being necessary for safety. Wolf makes it quite clear that incrementally introducing a police state is integral to setting up a totalitarian, fascist government.


Surveillance.  The U.S.A. Patriot Act has given the police amazing autonomous surveillance powers. It is nothing less than a violation of citizens’ right of privacy. U.S. intelligence agencies are now by-passing the courts to wiretap citizens’ telephones, collect their e-mails (See Protect America Act and The Betrayal of America, The Weekly Wonk, AT&T, 11/10/2007) and monitor their financial transactions.3


Don’t forget about all those surveillance cameras. You can’t go into any bank or store without being watched. Many localities have installed surveillance cameras on the streets and/or at intersections to catch violators of traffic laws and in Washington D.C. they’re installing a “citywide closed-circuit television (CCTV) surveillance system” that will “link 1,000 cameras to watch streets, public schools, the DC Metro transit system, federal facilities and even part of a Georgetown business improvement district.”4 Some areas monitor the radio stations that motorists are listening to.5,6


In addition to watching us, we can be electronically followed. RFID chips are now placed in passports7 and the REAL ID Act will probably result in RFID chips being placed in drivers’ licenses. Then there’s the Global Positioning Systems (GPS) installed in cars and mobile phones.8 And citizens are being asked to snoop and report on others.9


All of these things could be used to determine, maybe erroneously, that someone is an “enemy combatant.” Think it can’t happen? Read up on COINTELPRO, the 1956-1971 Counter Intelligence Program that was used to investigate and interrupt U.S. political organizations. (See Wikipedia)


Private Police.  Paramilitary groups like Blackwater are currently only a threat. But a very real threat. They have been operating in Iraq – outside of Iraqi law, American civil law, and American military law – and have been involved in countless murders of innocent people. Can’t happen here? Think again. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina they were set loose in New Orleans.10 Under The Insurrection Act and the Posse Comitatus Act, federal intervention into domestic issues is prohibited. However, a new Martial Law was signed into law by President Bush in October 2006 which allows the president to intercede in any domestic disturbance, and just about anything can be used to declare martial law. In addition, the National Security Presidential Directive 51 allows the president to take complete control of the government, relegating the legislative and judicial branches to “being informed,” in the case of a “catastrophe,” defined as just about anything he so chooses.


Torture.  The 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination protects us from being tortured into confessing crimes. It doesn’t matter if you’re innocent or guilty. Pain will induce you to confess to anything. It’s a short step from torturing “terrorists” and “enemy combatants” to torturing U.S. citizens in U.S. jails and prisons as well as Guantanamo Bay and unknown numbers of CIA “Black Sites.”11,12


So, we are being watched, followed, and turned in by our neighbors. We can be picked up by private police and tortured until we make false confessions. However, if the government is forced to charge us with a crime, try us in a court of law for that crime, and is barred from using a tortured confession against us, we’ll be okay. Are these rights still intact? Not hardly.


Habeas Corpus.  According to Paul Craig Roberts,13 “The hysterical aftermath of September 11 has put into place the main components of a police state.” Roberts argues that the greatest protection we have against a police state is the right of habeas corpus, which “prevents the despotic practice of picking up a person and holding him indefinitely.” With the Military Commissions Act of 2006, that right has been taken from us. President Bush has claimed the right to arrest a citizen on his own initiative and hold him indefinitely. Thus, we are no longer protected from arbitrary arrest and indefinite detention.


Many believe that this will only happen to “terrorists” or “enemy combatants.” But, the U.S. has never defined “terrorist.” The closest I could find was Bush’s declaration, “You are either with us or against us.”14 So, in his eyes, a “terrorist” is someone who doesn’t agree with him. You could be a dissenter from government policies, a political opponent, or a Democratic member of Congress. There’s also his definition of “enemy combatant,” which, by the way, is not tied in any way to “terrorism.” The Military Commissions Act defines an “enemy combatant” as a person “who has engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States or its co-belligerents.” This is overly broad, to say the least, and can creatively be applied to just about anyone.


Without the right of habeas corpus anyone can be arrested and placed in detention indefinitely – without charges, without representation, without a trial – for just about anything. Don’t believe me? Go back and review the Military Commissions Act. According to this Act, the president has the power to determine that any U.S. citizen is an “enemy combatant.” And he can designate that power to anyone he chooses in the executive branch.


Yes, it CAN happen here and it IS happening here. It’s happening incrementally and always under the auspices of greater safety. It can be turned against us.




1  Wolf, Naomi (2007) The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot. Chelsea Green Publishing.


2  Wolf, Naomi. Fascist America, in 10 easy steps. Guardian, April 24, 2007.


3  Lichtblau, Eric & Risen, James. Bank Data is Sifted by U.S. in Secret to Block Terror. The New York Times, June 23, 2006.


4  Parenti, Christian. DC’s Virtual Panopticon. The Nation, June 3, 2002.


5  Salladay, Robert. High-Tech Billboards Tune in to Drivers’ Tastes. SFGate.com, December 22, 2002.


6  Your Car Radio May be Revealing Your Tastes. St. Petersburg Times, January 31, 2000.


7  Krim, Jonathan. U.S. Passports to Receive Electronic Identification Chips. Washington Post, October 26, 2005.


8  GPSLocator.net.


9  Edwards, David & Kane, Muriel. Firefighters Asked to Report People Who Express Discontent with the Government. The Raw Story, November 29, 2007.


10 Scahill, Jeremy & Crespo, Daniela. Blackwater Mercenaries Deply in New Orleans. Truthout, September 10, 2005.


11 Priest, Dana. CIA Holds Terror Suspects in Secret Prisons. Washington Post, November 2, 2005.


12 Feds Working in Secret African Prisons. Associated Press, April 4, 2007.


13 Roberts, Paul Craig. The Police State is Closer Than You Think. AntiWar.com, October 8, 2005.


14 ‘You Are Either With Us or Against Us.’ CNN.com, November 6, 2001.



© The Issue Wonk, 2007




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