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15 Jan, 2012

Professor Lists 10 Reasons Why The U.S. Is No Longer The Land Of The Free

In the decade since Sept. 11, 2001, the United States has comprehensively reduced civil liberties in the name of an expanded security state, and is now in the same “troubling company” as Russia, China, Cuba, Iran and other countries it criticises, according to Jonathan Turley, the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University.

In a commentary published in the Washington Post on Jan 14, the academic says, “Since 9/11, we have created the very government the framers (of the US Constitution) feared: a government with sweeping and largely unchecked powers resting on the hope that they will be used wisely.”

(See 10 Ways These Same Curbs Have Impacted Travel & Tourism at the bottom of this story).

These new laws have come with an infusion of money into an expanded security system on the state and federal levels, including more public surveillance cameras, tens of thousands of security personnel and a massive expansion of a terrorist-chasing bureaucracy, he says.

The 10-point list of powers acquired by the U.S. government since 9/11 includes: Assassination of U.S. citizens; Indefinite detention; Arbitrary justice; Warrantless searches; Secret evidence; War crimes; Secret courts; Immunity from judicial review; Continual monitoring of citizens; and Extraordinary renditions.

Says Prof Turley, “The most recent example of this was the National Defense Authorization Act, signed Dec. 31, which allows for the indefinite detention of citizens. At what point does the reduction of individual rights in our country change how we define ourselves?

“While each new national security power Washington has embraced was controversial when enacted, they are often discussed in isolation. But they don’t operate in isolation. They form a mosaic of powers under which our country could be considered, at least in part, authoritarian.

“Americans often proclaim our nation as a symbol of freedom to the world while dismissing nations such as Cuba and China as categorically unfree. Yet, objectively, we may be only half right. Those countries do lack basic individual rights such as due process, placing them outside any reasonable definition of “free,” but the United States now has much more in common with such regimes than anyone may like to admit.”

The professor notes that “every year, the State Department issues reports on individual rights in other countries, monitoring the passage of restrictive laws and regulations around the world. Iran, for example, has been criticized for denying fair public trials and limiting privacy, while Russia has been taken to task for undermining due process. Other countries have been condemned for the use of secret evidence and torture.”

However, he adds, “Even as we pass judgment on countries we consider unfree, Americans remain confident that any definition of a free nation must include their own — the land of free. Yet, the laws and practices of the land should shake that confidence. In the decade since Sept. 11, 2001, this country has comprehensively reduced civil liberties in the name of an expanded security state.”

The report also notes how politicians become part of the problem by deluding themselves into thinking that they are acting in the public good, unquestioningly accepting these curbs and then lying to the public.

Says the commentary, “Some politicians shrug and say these increased powers are merely a response to the times we live in. Thus, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) could declare in an interview last spring without objection that “free speech is a great idea, but we’re in a war.” Of course, terrorism will never “surrender” and end this particular “war.”

“Other politicians rationalize that, while such powers may exist, it really comes down to how they are used. This is a common response by liberals who cannot bring themselves to denounce Obama as they did Bush. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), for instance, has insisted that Congress is not making any decision on indefinite detention: “That is a decision which we leave where it belongs — in the executive branch.”

“And in a signing statement with the defense authorization bill, Obama said he does not intend to use the latest power to indefinitely imprison citizens. Yet, he still accepted the power as a sort of regretful autocrat.

“An authoritarian nation is defined not just by the use of authoritarian powers, but by the ability to use them. If a president can take away your freedom or your life on his own authority, all rights become little more than a discretionary grant subject to executive will.”

Prof Turley concludes, “Dishonesty from politicians is nothing new for Americans. The real question is whether we are lying to ourselves when we call this country the land of the free.”

10 Ways These Same Curbs Have Impacted Travel & Tourism

By Imtiaz Muqbil, Executive Editor

The commentary by Prof Jonathan Turley should be an eye opener for the global travel and tourism industry which has also felt the heat of the U.S. curbs on civil liberties as part of the expanded “war on terror.” Like the U.S. politicians quoted in the commentary, leaders of the travel & tourism industry have tended to accept these curbs as being a requirement of the times and in the best interests of the industry.

Here are 10 ways travel & tourism has been directly affected:

1. Airport queues and assorted other security hassles;

2. Heightened and tightened visa curbs;

3. Increased administrative headaches for all stakeholders;

4. Privacy violations;

5. Safety (sanctions on Iranian commercial airlines have affected the safety of civilian travellers);

6. Blatant racial profiling and discrimination against Muslims and those mistaken for Muslims;

7. Increased social, cultural, religious and ethnic tensions;

8. The global image of the US which has affected its tourism industry and the national economy;

9. Higher security costs across the entire travel chain; and

10. Higher military costs which have diverted trillions of dollars from more productive uses that could have led to a better, safer, more peaceful world and hence had the most significant positive impact on travel & tourism.

Encouragingly, however, the commentary is a sign of the American awakening now underway, as flagged earlier by Travel Impact Newswire. Indeed, as this awareness grows, the travelling public has every reason to demand accountability from the travel & tourism leaders.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the travel and tourism industry was building a case to facilitate growth, a key area of attack was to demand policy changes in areas that were considered “impediments to growth”. These included facilitation bottlenecks and visa hassles, in addition to others such as barriers to investment and the restrictive bilateral aviation agreements.

Today when many of these impediments to growth are back with a vengeance, and worsening, industry organisations such as the World Travel and Tourism Council, the International Air Transport Association and many others shy away from seeking check-and-balance mechanisms, a voice in the decision-making process and plain, old-fashioned transparency and accountability from supposedly democratic governments.

With every commentary such as those in the Washington Post, the pressure grows on travel & tourism leaders to start showing some backbone.

It’s not going to go away. Consider it as much a part of the emerging new world order as the “Occupy movement” and the “Arab spring.”