The Common Good
April 2012

Destroying Our Rights to Save Them

by Dianna Ortiz | April 2012

The U.S. government continues to claim the authority to detain and kill without trial.

IT IS WELL to remember, during this season of Lent, that the enemies of Jesus were utterly convinced that he had to be silenced. Was he not a threat to a belief system, a religion, a state? Whatever it was, it was an issue of security—therefore, Jesus had to die. His freedom was a danger. He had to be silenced.

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Today, in the name of national security, we in the United States are dismantling what we have been taught are our fundamental rights under the Constitution. We are left to wonder: Where is the outrage? Why are so many silent? Can it be that torture, warrantless searches, indefinite detentions—those practices that tear at the very soul of what it means to be a humane and just society—are acceptable to the American people?

Actions taken by both the Bush and Obama administrations suggest that basic guarantees made to citizens are in the process of being undermined. From torture to warrantless searches to assassinations of Americans on the president’s order, the very pillars of the republic would seem to be shattering.

Those who consider this contention extreme should consider George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley’s article, “Ten reasons we’re no longer the land of the free,” in The Washington Post this January. Turley points out the government’s continuing “ability to transfer both citizens and noncitizens to another country under a system known as extraordinary rendition, which has been denounced as using other countries, such as Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Pakistan, to torture suspects. The Obama administration says it is not continuing the abuses of this practice under Bush, but it insists on the unfettered right to order such transfers.”

Two administration attorneys, Stephen Preston of the CIA and Jeh Johnson from the Pentagon, affirmed last December, when asked about a drone strike that killed U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, that the administration views U.S. citizens that it has designated enemy combatants to be acceptable targets.

The hope that 2012 might usher in a challenge to these threats dimmed considerably because of an action taken on the final day of last year. On that day, President Obama signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act. One of its provisions allows for the indefinite detention of American citizens by the military, with no nod whatsoever to due process.

Think for a moment of those long held in countries around the world whose governments we call despotic, barbaric, and inhumane. With this act, we risk joining their number. Although Obama sought to assure us that he would not invoke this odious provision himself, he knows well that, with his signature, it is now part of the law and available for use by any of his successors.

Long ago, a member of the U.S. military said that they had to destroy a village in Vietnam in order to save it. It seems now that, in the name of security, we must destroy fundamental rights, in order to save—what?

Does this seem too harsh? As we witness a government-ordered assassination of an American citizen, warrantless searches, and invasion of privacy, I think not.

Sister Dianna Ortiz, OSU, was abducted and tortured in Guatemala in 1989. She founded the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International (TASSC), co-authored The Blindfold’s Eyes: My Journey from Torture to Truth, and currently serves as Pax Christi USA’s internship director.

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