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Civil Rights

War’s End

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On the 31st of December 2014, the US military mission to Afghanistan will officially end after 13 years, the longest “military action” in American history. The “support mission” may continue, with up to 10,000 troops still deployed, but that depends on the US signing a security agreement with a Karzai Administration that has come to despise Americans. Agreement or not, on January 1st, 2015, President Obama should declare victory and end the War on Terror.

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This perpetual conflict was declared in the wake of the horrific attacks of 11 September 2001, but has long ago passed the point of doing more harm than good to US interests and American society. The culture of fear and paranoia that birthed it and which has in turn been nurtured by it, has justified the use of torture and rendition, the abuse of combatants and civilians, assassination campaigns, detentions without recourse to legal protections, the undermining of our civil liberties and constitutional protections.

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The need for such extraordinary and dangerous measures was questioned even at the time that they were proposed. They are even less needed and more corrosive now. Osama Bin Laden is dead; no one has risen to take his place. The the original top leaders have been hunted down and killed: Al Qaeda is decapitated and fragmented, probably irreversibly.

Today, the measures would be fiercely opposed and rejected if proposed anew; but their longevity, their usefulness to those in power, and the dulling of our own sense of outrage as citizens prevents us from taking the obvious measure required. There have been no successful large-scale attacks on the US in 13 years. There is no longer a definable enemy to fight; only an anonymous, amorphous mass of hate-filled fanatics. There will always be another terrorist in some dark corner of the world, but the fact remains: they lost. We won.

Victory in this war makes the PATRIOT Act and its brood of legislative children unnecessary and unwanted. Some if its provisions are due to expire early next year. They should be expired. Most of the rest should be repealed by act of Congress.

The President will no longer be authorized to use deadly force against anyone anywhere merely because someone in the Executive Branch considers them a potential threat to national security. We would be out of the assassination business. No more death by drone. It also means that Congress must recover its preeminent role in the determination of peace or war for our nation, by aggressively applying the War Powers Act and reinforcing it where necessary.

The revocation of the PATRIOT Act also means ending the Orwellian pervasiveness of the surveillance state. Not just the NSA, but also the FBI and other Federal agencies that have metastasized across all sectors of our economy and our society. A Digital Rights Act – perhaps even an amendment – is called for to reclaim our hard won civil liberties. Such an Act would be an extension of our Constitution into cyberspace and would be aligned with existing international privacy standards.

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Not only would this benefit our democracy and our citizens, it would protect the increasingly beleaguered US technology sector, make it easier for US firms to do business in and win business from the European Union, and would greatly ease the negotiation and passage of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. The TTIP could be the motor of sustained economic growth in the North Atlantic community for the next few decades.

Ending the War on Terror and reducing the grant of powers to the Executive to something close to antebellum levels does not mean going blindly into the happily ever after. The world remains a dangerous, hostile place: more so now than in 2001. I am not a naïve wisher for peace; I believe in the old saying that we sleep safely because there are men and women with guns who patrol the night. Yet I do not agree with the apologists who argue that only our current security apparatus is what stands between us and wicked men, and that we must therefore sacrifice our liberties for our safety.

Much of what has been done cannot and perhaps should not be undone. Homeland Security will remain, the largest Federal expansion since the Second World War by a President who ran on a small government ticket. The NSA will continue to snoop around the margins of our emails, while the FBI will still filter phone data.

Some of this electronic surveillance is probably necessary; but more of it should be done in the open. Warrants should be issued from regular courts, not FISA star chambers. The storage of any data , meta- or otherwise, should be prohibited unless linked to an open, court authorized investigation. Otherwise: Alt-Ctrl-Del after 30 days.

Will these measures make us more vulnerable to a terrorist attack? Perhaps, but the world is full of dangers, and we must bear them manfully without cowering in fear or accepting the false compromise of security for liberty. Life as a slave simply isn’t worth so great a sacrifice. Will revoking these measures be enough to restore freedom to our country? Perhaps not, but the work of 13 years cannot undone quickly or easily.

But that is the start we should be making.

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“Our obligations to our country never cease but with our lives.“

John Adams

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