It has been interesting watching the contortions of the mainstream media over the revelations of whistleblower Edward Snowden and Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald about the illegal activities of the US National Security Agency and Justice Department. In some ways I don't envy the left-leaning media their dilemma - who is right, the President who is everything they always wanted (left-wing, black and so cool he needs to be kept in a refrigerator) or Greenwald, who has impeccable credentials (gay, Guardian, ex-civil rights litigator) as one of their own? Who should they defend - the symbol of their left-wing liberalism in the Oval Office or the only journalist upholding the principles they have always professed to defend such as freedom of speech and conscience? The very fact that they are caught in this dilemma suggest to me that they were never serious about their principles in the first place.
I have read numerous articles and blogs coming from all sides of the political spectrum attempting to justify the illegal spying by the Obama administration on its own citizens. The gist of the argument in favour of the government breaking the law is that it is necessary for the security of the nation. Of course, every dictator since Sulla has used the same argument to garner to themselves excessive and unconstitutional powers and it has never ended well for the people. Let's be clear, President Obama has been the worst offender in this regard and far worse than his predecessor, George W. Bush. At least Bush sought a legislative mandate in the likes of the Patriot Act for the expansion of his powers. The Obama administration has simply disregarded the need for any legislative or constitutional mandate for what it is doing, although it has used the law when it suits it, launching more prosecutions for espionage against whistle blowers than all previous administrations (the charges against Snowden are the seventh and there have been only three other such prosecutions in US history).
The US Constitution enshrines the principles of freedom of speech, privacy and due process precisely because its authors believed that future US presidents might do exactly what Obama has done. Its drafters saw no situation where the abrogation of these principles was justified (except in the specific instances detailed in the Bill of Rights itself). Take the Fourth Amendment, which says:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses,
papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall
not be violated, and no Warrants
shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation,
and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons
or things to be seized.
It couldn't be clearer. The US Government cannot legally search or seize someone's papers (and any reasonable modern interpretation of "papers" must include email) without a warrant that is issued upon probable cause. That means the government must have evidence against a specific person, place or thing it wants to search or seize. Even the broadest interpretation of this cannot include the seizing of information about every American's telephone calls.
The framers of the US Constitution got it right. They knew what was required if the Constitution was to preserve any semblance of liberty. They enshrined these principles to ensure freedom survived the propensity of governments towards tyranny. In my view, the assault on the Constitution by the current US Government is a far greater threat that any terrorist or other threat that has been used to justify these illegal and unconstitutional acts.
Americans can no longer expose the excesses of their government or even express a dissenting opinion for fear of being targeted by agencies such as the IRS, which was recently exposed as
having used its powers to illegally harass political groups that oppose the
Obama administration such as the Tea Party.
Unfortunately, the judicial oversight of the Executive Branch become a joke. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance ("FISA") Court, which is meant to oversee the issuing of warrants in regards to national security matters, has rejected just 11 of more than 33,000 applications for warrants in its 35 year existence and the US Supreme Court has become so politically loaded it has ceased to be any form of guardian for constitutional rights.
All this has meant that America is no longer the land of the free, but rather a land where people are so closely watched by government agencies whose methods and mandate would make former East German Stasi officers envious.
The media should not be debating whether unconstitutional acts are justified, they should be arguing how those who have abrogated the Constitution should be brought to justice.