The British today are on fire after Barack Obama’s confirmation that UK spies are cooperating with the CIA to monitor the phone and internet communications of UK citizens. Barack Obama, in the meantime, is wheeling out the old saw “If you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear.” According to him, we all must bear some modicum of inconvenience and loss of inconsequential privacy in order to keep the world safe from terrorists.
I’m not a defender of terrorists, I do not want to minimize the terrible suffering they can inflict, and I think responsible governments everywhere must work to maximize the security of their citizens.
But I do not look without a certain amount of serious apprehension at our governments’ increasing intrusion into our lives without warrants or any court oversight. I’m not worried that some secret activity of mine is about to be revealed to the glare of publicity or government scrutiny.
But I do not trust our government – or any government – absolutely. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. I have no doubt whatsoever that Americans are not exempt from this reality. Our founding fathers set up a constitution with checks and balances for this very reason. I fear the potential secret terrorism of my own government as much as I fear the terrorism from others.
Has our government ever lied to us? Do you think they knew that Iraq did not actually have weapons of mass destruction? Did President Reagan tell us Gen. Efrain Rios Montt, the former dictator who ruled Guatemala, was “man of great personal integrity and commitment,” even though he knew Montt’s forces had killed tens of thousands of Mayans in a single year, because it was a price worth paying to maintain a right-wing government in Central America? Do you trust that the US had nothing to do with the mysterious dismissal of Montt’s trial which found him guilty of war crimes against humanity? What about Guantanamo? or Allende, the democratically elected president of Chile?
Or etcetera. I don’t believe the US government is guilty of every treacherous act suggested by every conspiracy theory offered to us in the last fifty years.
But I’m old enough to recognize the human condition, and I think watering down our system of checks and balances is a very dangerous development.
In fact, I find it terrifying.