Saturday, August 14, 2004

Creating a Secret Police

from Newsweek
Rep. Porter Goss, President Bush’s nominee to head the CIA, recently introduced legislation that would give the president new authority to direct CIA agents to conduct law-enforcement operations inside the United States—including arresting American citizens.
A co-worker once told me: "As long as you're not doing anything wrong, you've got nothing to worry about."


Anonymous said...

Your co-worker is foolish to think this. It does not matter if you are doing anything wrong, it matters if THEY think you are. I don't see the value of "innocent until proven guilty" when you are put throught the trauma of being arrested, fingerprinted, and have to sit in jail until someone post bail. At least that's the best case situation. Think of all the people in prison who are there because of a DNA test that 17 years later proves to be wrong. Sure you can say but for every X wrong test, there's twice or three times that that is right and we do put the right people in jail. Fine. But tell that to the innocent person in jail..... Sorry Ryan, your co-worker is to put it mildly naive to believe in American justice. it doesn't exist. best you can hope for is to be really rich and have the TV cameras monitoring the trial....

J.R. Boyd said...

I agree: what's consider "wrong" from the perspective of government changes constantly, depending on the political climate, perceived threats, etc. No one should ever have "faith" in the people or institutions that claim some sort of authority them--no matter who they are: all power deserves to be met with skepticism and, unless it can be justified, resistance.

It's interesting because your comment parallels a another conversation I've had with co-workers about the death penalty--but more on that later...

Sheryl said...

I've been going through Bush's appointments over the last few years (I want to make a webpage with links to articles about these people) if I can motivate myself. If anyone is interested in helping me research it, let me know.

They aren't ALL creepy, but a very high proportion of them are. In fact, it's hard to believe that there are that many insane people in this country. But you can be sure he finds them out.

Just in the first 3 months of 2003, the Senate had gone through over 9000 nominees for various positions. Think about that! I know that they take some time off in the year, but isn't that something like 36,000 nominations a year. I don't remember exactly how many were confirmed, but it's just plain scary.

Like one of the first court appointments on the list was one of the lawyers who had advised Bush to not worry about torturing people. A lot of them are anti-abortion advocates or have no regard for civil liberties or are homophobes. You name it. If there is an obnoxious stance to take on a position, the Bush appointments will have at least one to their records.

His litmus test seems to be whatever I am against. :-(

Anonymous said...

It sounds like you're making people think differently where you work. I have really mixed feelings about the death penalty. I think the whole judicial system right from jury selection to trials to punishment is insane. The worst thing I can imagine is to be accused and put to trial for a crime I did not commit. There is no such thing as jury by your peers. That's bullshit. And what the hell does it mean when the judge says to the jury "I want you to consider the judgement without considering the punishment." You know they do say that. We are supposed to make a decision on the fate of the accused but not consider what we might have to sentence the person if we found that person guilty? Does this seem logical to you?

how does society gain with this an eye for an eye doctrine? I don't know. I haven't lost anyone in a violent crime so my feelings and thoughts might be different. I have sympathy for those who lose friends or loved ones to a murderer and it is a hideous crime. But there are innocent people on death row and that is what bothers me.

Incidentally, is it any better to commit blue collar crimes and destroy a company al la Enron and put people out of work? Maybe Lay et al didn't kill people personally but why is their crime any less than a serial killer's? They both harmed society. I'll bet you anything that they'll get a nice country club stint, serve half their time and then get off, go back to enjoying the country club life.

The people who suffer the most are the ones who do not have the money to defend themsleves. Keep talking to your co-workers. Little drops of water eventually wear down the stone.

Anonymous said...

I like that comment about bush being able to find insane people. funny.

but about your post. i thought the cia always had the right to arrest american people?

J.R. Boyd said...

Thanks for your comments!

Anonymous, I think you make a strong case against the death penalty. One innocent life lost is too many; any death-penalty advocate should admit that much. To say it's okay in one context and not in another makes no sense.

Also, I agree that small actions are critical in making change. I subscribe to the Michael Moore philosophy of getting off the couch and doing anything, no matter what. I like to write letters, for example, instead of going door-to-door. I'm an introvert and just feel better suited to some activities over others.

Really, if we want a democracy where everyone is engaged and involved, the emphasis should be on inviting more people to do small things then on a few people to be overachieving "super-activists". I don't relate to that concept; in fact, I'm turned off by it. I don't think activism should be a specialized activity, by people who are "professional activists." Of course, I appreciate people with that sort of dedication. But I think participation should be diffused throughout the society, in activism as in anything else. Probably the most important task then, is reaching out to others, engaging them, and then inviting them to play a role that suits them, their interests and their abilities.

Sheryl, I think Bush has done a great job putting the heads of industry in the agencies created to regulate those industries. After all, it's not like the people who enable companies to pollute aren't experts on the environment in a way. But I don't know a lot about it specifically, and I'd be interested in what you find out...

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your positive response to my comment. If I reacted strongly to your collegue, it is from my personal experience. I left my country because of religious persecution when I changed my religion and practiced my new faith openly. I lost my job and then my wife lost hers as well. We were able to come here because my uncle sponsored us and we thought that life would be different. 9-11 has changed all of us. we live in a small town in Louisiana and because of our foreign names and dark faces, we have been treated with suspicion. Twice the local police have come to the house when my relatives visited. one was a birthday party for my 3 year old and the other was after my daughter was born. They came because a neighbour called the police when she saw many "dark muslim looking foreigners". we were not doing anything more than celebrating a joyous occasion. So i have a lot of anger for these types of comments. but in being angry, I also enter this cycle of hatred and fear. I only wish people who say these things can imagine what it is like for those of us who fear what might happen to us if we are accused of being terrorists. I see you have a story of a chinese woman who was beaten by an officer. He will probably be punished, but the scars left on her are there to stay. My son fortunately thinks it was exciting when the police cars came. But I wonder in years to come if he will be bitter as I was later. We hope he will forget the memory but we must also learn how to live with it.

J.R. Boyd said...

Mershad, I'm very sorry to hear about your experiences. In your case, simply having a family event was enough to place you and your relatives under suspicion of "doing something wrong."

If it's any consolation, this is not the kind of America most of us want to live in. Since 9-11, the Bush administration has driven the population into a state of constant fear and anxiety, particularly towards foreigners, and especially towards people of Arabic descent.

There are many scary components to the Bush response to 9-11; this proposal to use the CIA domestically is one of the newest; the justice department already had its mandate expanded under the Patriot Act, which allows for people to be held without due process as "enemy combatants," and removes restrictions from the FBI with regard to investigating American citizens. To answer your earlier question, the CIA has traditionally had its powers restricted to foreign intelligence gathering. I don't know to what extent it may have ever operated domestically, but my understanding is that this was not its primary role. The FBI, our national law-enforcement agency, can investigate and arrest Americans, but only in the course of investigating a crime that has been committed. Of course, these things change all the time, and there have certainly been many instances of both agencies acting illegally under the right circumstances.

What's hopeful is that there is widespread resistance to these measures among Americans. The Patriot Act is highly unpopular amongst significant numbers of people; I think John Kerry has made it part of his platform to repeal the anti-libertarian portions of it. There is much hope in the prospect of removing Bush, and his reactionary administration, from power--at least for starters.

TheRadicalModerate said...

I'll take the 'evil' conservative view on the death penalty. I strongly support it (I just wish it was economically feasible). To me, if you take a life (or destroy it as in forcible rape) then you have proven to society that you are not human. Thus, you have no right to live.
On the conservative side (again) I do believe the axiom that "not doing anything wrong ... nothing to worry about". Thus, I wouldn't object to a police officer searching my car or house without a search warrant (of course, I am an older white person so ...). However, I am a strict constitutionalist (liberal) so anything that violates the constitution is out. That's why I don't have a problem with arresting, torturing so-called 'enemy combatants' as long as they are not American citizens.
I need to get off these blogs (I keep finding more and more) so I can get some sleep and update my own.

TheRadicalModerate said...

Oh, forgot to add. Yes, the CIA's mandate is strictly 'out of country'. It is illegal for the CIA to do anything in the U.S. with the exception of counter-espionage. The FBI has the sole responsiblity for 'in-country' federal activity similar to the CIA's.

Sheryl said...

I guess that makes me the moderate in this discussion. I think the death penalty is clearly abused and overapplied against minorities. However, I can see instances where I am not against it.

You take someone like Timothy McVeigh, who not only does not deny murdering those "evil bureaucrats," but thinks he is a hero for doing so. Somebody that hard is probably not salvagable and is certainly not a happy or a connected member of the human race.

Or people like Donald Rumsfeld, who publicly refers to the loss of innocent life as "collateral damage." Just to think of people that way--as completely disposable and irrelevant. Like irksome flies.

Or people who disembowel, torture, and rape people and happily admit it in public. "She crossed her eyes at me. She was asking for it."

It's one thing if there are doubts about whether someone actually has done something horrific, but some people are outright proud of their acts of cruelty.

I can understand being hardened by life. I used to be a lot nicer person than I am now. If life jacks you around enough, you just stop caring about other people as much.

But I think there is a point of no return. When a person is just so self absorbed that he or she can do anything and find a way to rationalize it. At that point, I don't think they are really human any more.

Part of being human is finding quality in the universe and interacting with the beauty that does exist. If a person is so self absorbed that they can no longer relate to what beauty there is, then I think they are too desensitized. I'm not sure you are doing such people a disservice to put them out of their misery.

You don't see people like Rumsfeld and McVeigh smiling much, because they feel contempt for everything. These are very sad people. They have shut themselves out.

But that is quite a different thing from someone who murders out of passion or self defense, etc., etc. So that is the distinction I make. Sorry if I am offending anyone.

It's just kind of like my views on euthanasia. Whereas it can be dangerous to be too judgemental about quality of life, I think it can also be dangerous to not be judgemental enough about quality of life. The same thing for protecting embryos. I just think there are basic things in humanity that are worth protecting, and some things which are not. If the things that are worth protecting are missing, then I think that is a relevant part of the equation.

J.R. Boyd said...

I think there's two issues: one is whether by supporting a system of execution you are willing to allow that innocent people will be victims--as they invariably are; second is whether killing someone for a crime is morally acceptable.

With respect to the former, killing innocent people is not acceptable to me, therefore a state-system of execution is unacceptable.

With respect to the latter, I don't know.

Sheryl said...

On a "moral" level, I would rather focus on providing people opportunities, so that we don't live in a culture where it's an issue. That may sound like a political copout, but it's how I feel.

If we focused on providing resources to people, so that they could be self empowered and have healthy communities and extended family for emotional support, then people wouldn't be going haywire to start with.

J.R. Boyd said...

Hey, that's my argument!

Seriously, I think issues like crime and, for instance, terrorism, have to be looked at in terms of root-causes.

TheRadicalModerate said...

I really hate that doesn't provide for you to see other's comments while you post. Its annoying to have to switch back and forth.

On (switch) J.Ryan's comments:
"one is whether by supporting a system of execution you are willing to allow that innocent people will be victims"
Unfortunately, and I hate to sound callous, but yes I am. Until science progesses (and the courts allow) us to read a person's mind there is no 'guaranteed' system to prevent it. Its unfortunate, but we do jail or execute people innocent of crimes. I see it as a 'many' vs. 'few' argument like:
If you (somehow) knew that killing an innocent passenger of one of the hijacked planes would prevent the destruction of the twin towers, would you? 1 vs. ~3000. Not an easy question.

"second is whether killing someone for a crime is morally acceptable."
Obviously, I have no problem with this as I posted above. However, Sheryl is absolutely right. It would be a far better usage of our energies to eliminate the impetus for (non-passion) crimes.

Similar to this is a question which conservatives love to point out as proof that I am liberal (illogical). If God came down and told you that he had decided that everyone was to be only either a conservative or a liberal and told you to decide, what would you? Without hesitation, I would say, liberal. Because I feel liberals personally tend to do the moral thing (which is not always right) which would essentially eliminate the impetus for all non-passion crimes.

Sheryl said...

Ryan, glad we agree. :-)

Radical Moderate,

If God came down and asked me if I were liberal or conservative, I'd ask God why as an omnipotent being, with power to stop the horrific things that people do to one another, he chooses not to. If he can give me a reasonable answer to my question, then just the fact I asked him my question should answer his.

TheRadicalModerate said...

Sorry, Sheryl, I don't see your point. A conservative would likely ask the same thing. However, I have an answer to your question but I don't think we want to get into theological discussions, do we?

J.R. Boyd said...

"Until science progesses (and the courts allow) us to read a person's mind there is no 'guaranteed' system to prevent it. Its unfortunate, but we do jail or execute people innocent of crimes."

I agree, but it's harder to apologize to a cadaver for the mistake.

Anonymous said...

Get ready to slap me!

Its easy to apologize to a cadaver, but I don't think it matters to it.

TheRadicalModerate said...

Suddenly, my default seems to be 'anonymous'.

Sheryl said...

Radical Moderate, why do you figure a conservative would ask the same question of God? My impression is that conservatives value authority structures (chain of command), so questioning God would be tantamount to sacrilege. Whereas liberals are more concerned with equality and the affects of power structures on people's lives, so a liberal would be more concerned about solving the problem than of acknowleging God as an authority figure or fearing hell. And if this God were truely benevolent, he would appreciate the question.

I don't have a problem with discussing theology, but it's not a subject I spend much time with. I was raised without religion and have settled very comfortably into secular humanism.

I get most of my ideas from talking to people and thinking about things. I have a feeling that most of my morality is a combination of existentialism, aestheticism, humanism, and personal experience. Not necessarily in that order.

Ryan, you are absolutely right that death is permanent. On the other hand, if an innocent person has been declared guilty of a crime that would otherwise result in execution, then their incarceration is also likely to be permanent. The probability that they will ever receive that apology from the state you are suggesting is extremely low.

Instead they will spend the rest of their lives, which might be a very long time, forced to live like animals in pens with no freedoms nor rights. They will also have to be coping all that time with the knowlege that their culture believes they did some horrific act, which they in fact did not do.

In the long run, they will meet up with the same end anyway, because what the state doesn't do, Mother Nature will. As the saying goes, death is the one thing that we can all be sure of.

I'm not advocating the death penalty. I'm only saying that eliminating the death penalty does not inherently lessen or eradicate the injustice of a false verdict.

J.R. Boyd said...

You're right that eliminating the death penalty would not "inherently lessen or eradicate the injustice of a false verdict." It would mitigate the sentence by allowing for the opportunity of a future appeal.

TheRadicalModerate said...

Sheryl, why do I think a conservative would ask the same thing you would? Because, and I nearly fell out of my chair when I read your post, a conservative I asked that question said the EXACT same thing.

Perhaps you're turning to the Dark Side?

Anonymous said...


i'm not religious, and my knowledge of theology is probably faulty - having strayed so long from the path ;-). but my understanding os rather one of the populat answers i hear is that "we" are given free will and it is our free will that we exert that determines our individual actions. Whereas if someone believes that we are nothing more than pawns that "God" moves around for his viewing pleasure or to amuse himself, then we have no free will. In the muslim religion which I am more familiar with - Muslims do good things or good deeds in order to assure themselves of a place in heaven such as "zakat" - so in essence it is like buying a place in heaven or perhaps making enough contributions to the bush campaign to buy an ambassaforship..Christians (at least the ones I grew up with and know) generally don't prescribe to this idea of buying your way into heaven. You are "saved" only through the blood of Jesus Christ. he is the way to eternal life. so by committing your life to him he is the path. one of the things I don't like about this doctrine - an as I said it could be my faulty interpretation of it - is this idea that you are "saved" once and for all - but you are human so you can expect to err. now if someone was sincere, and they make mistakes and "repent" or are sorry, that's ok. but I know people who seem to deliberately do bad stuff over nad over again because they have a free get out of jail free card.

Sorry to sound so theological. I am not disagreeing with your comment as it is one that people have been wrestling with. I jsut wanted to bring up this concept of free will. It is like a child-parent relationship. You tell a child not to touch a hot stove but the child has control over his mind and body and does it anyway.

As you say some people like Tim Mcveigh showed no remorse and personify evil. free will was wasted on someone like that.

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Anonymous said...

I am sorry. I do not understand why my comment appeared 3 times. I wasn't trying to make a point trice as hard :-(

J.R. Boyd said...

Blogger's nuts. You're very thoughtful, though. Thanks for sharing...

Sheryl said...


As always your point is certainly valid.

Radical M.,

I'm actually a secular humanist, so the God question was theoretical for me.

As such, my feeling is that moral behavior is about deciding what kind of world we want to live in. I was kind of assuming that you were asking it from a religious perspective, but I guess you were just assuming I was answering it from one.

It's funny that the conservative said the same thing as I did. But I never promised to fit anyone's stereotypes.

Besides, liberal is a word of expansion. It comes from the latin word "liber," meaning free. So a liberal is inherently a free thinker. :-)

Sheryl said...

This article reminded me of this discussion about the death penalty. It's talking about eliminating prisons: