When I was kid, the last thing I ever thought was that I would end up living in a country whose government has the power to torture people. I was taught that only brutal dictatorships do that. And yet, here I am, many years later, living under a government that is empowered to torture people, including American citizens.
In the post-911 era, torture has become an accepted and necessary power of the U.S. national-security establishment, specifically the military and the CIA. It’s to “keep us safe,” they say. They say the same thing about their post-9/11 power to assassinate people, including American citizens, which the federal courts, in their customary deference to the national-security establishment, have confirmed under the rubric of protecting “national security,” just as they have with respect to the power to torture people.
Yesterday, the New York Times carried an article that helps put things into context. It’s an article that details how Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro engages in torture against military personnel who have attempted to oust him in a coup. One military man, a retired navy captain named Rafael Acosta, appeared before a military tribunal “a broken man, in a wheelchair and showing signs of torture.” He died later that day.
The article cites an organization named the Coalition for Human Rights and Democracy, which has documented 250 cases of torture against military officials, their relatives, or opponents of the Maduro regime. Also, there are 217 military officers being held indefinitely without trial in Maduro’s prisons. Some have been there for years.
This is what we expect from dictatorships. No surprise. That’s what I learned as a kid.
But the Maduro policy of torture and indefinite detention should cause Americans to reflect on what the U.S. national-security establishment has done to our country, for that New York Times article about Maduro should remind us that the U.S. government’s powers of torture, indefinite detention, and assassination are the same powers that are wielded (and exercised) by one of the most brutal dictatorships in the world.
Think back to the founding of the United States. The American people had sent delegates to the Constitutional Convention with the mission of simply modifying the Articles of Confederation, a type of governmental structure under which they had been operating for 13 years.
Under the Articles, the federal government’s powers were so weak that the federal government didn’t even have the power to tax people. That’s the way Americans wanted it. They expected the delegates to the Constitutional Convention simply to come up with modifications to the Articles, so as to make things more efficient.
Instead, the delegates came up with an entirely new type of federal government, one whose powers, they told Americans, would continue to be few and weak. Americans were extremely leery. It was not a foregone conclusion that they would accept the new type of federal government.
Now, imagine for a second the proponents of the Constitution had told the American people: “This new federal government will consist of a vast, permanent, and ever-growing military-intelligence establishment, which will have the powers to take you into custody, place you indefinitely into a military dungeon or prison camp, torture you, and assassinate you, as well as embroil the nation in overseas conflicts, coups, regime-change operations, invasions, wars of aggression, occupations, undeclared wars, and other forms of meddling in the affairs of foreign nations.”
The American people would have died of laughter. They would have thought that the proposal was a big joke. Once they discovered that it wasn’t a joke, they would have summarily rejected the deal and continued operating under the Articles of Confederation.
The reason they accepted the deal was that they were assured that the federal government would never wield the type of powers wielded by dictatorial regimes. To make certain of that, Americans enacted the Bill of Rights, which reconfirmed the point: The U.S. government would not have the power to kill people without formal charges and a trial, which could be by a jury consisting of regular citizens. Trials would have to be speedy; that is, no indefinite detention. And no “cruel and unusual punishments,” which encompassed torture.
That system of a limited-government republic lasted for some 150 years. No vast, permanent, and ever-growing military-intelligence establishment. No Pentagon. No CIA. No NSA. No mass surveillance. No coups or other regime change operations. No torture. No assassinations. No indefinite detention.
It came to an end when the U.S. government was converted to a national-security state after World War II. Then, after the 9/11 attacks, all those powers become formalized, established powers of the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA, with the confirmation of the federal judiciary. Interestingly, there has never been a constitutional amendment either authorizing the conversion of the federal government to a national-security state or granting such dictatorial powers to the federal government.
Moreover, it’s worth noting that the 9/11 attacks were motivated by anger and hatred for Pentagon and CIA interventionism in the Middle East. That’s an important point because if there hadn’t been such meddling, there wouldn’t have been those 9/11 attacks and, therefore, the excuse for formally adopting those dictatorial powers would never have have arisen. We also wouldn’t be living under a TSA, Homeland Security, and the perpetual “war on terrorism.”
One final thing is worth noting: Many of those military officers in Venezuela who are being tortured, detained, and killed for apparently initiating coups against Maduro may been motivated by Pentagon and CIA encouragement or bribery as part of their regime-change efforts against Maduro. If so, it would be just one more dark consequence of keeping a national-security state form of governmental structure rather than restoring a limited-government republic to our land.