Monday, December 05, 2005

Individual Liberty Is The First Casualty Of "The War On Terror"

I was watching a documentary series on the history of Singapore last night on the Discovery channel. Although parts of it were badly disguised ads for Singapore Airlines, the coverage was pretty fair considering the topic and the location.

What came across perfectly clearly was the absolute determination of the PAP to stay in power by whatever means are required. Starting from the basic assumption that they know what is right for Singapore, all is justified in the maintenance and exercise of power. The documentary showed how key members of the party were jailed in the early days, and how the lone opposition MP in the '80's was bankrupted through court actions.

If 4 million people want to be governed this way, that's their choice, though given the constant manipulation of the election rules and constituencies, choice may be too strong a word. In any case, there is little impact on anyone else, as Singapore has yet to "project" its power the way the US is wont to do.

Which is why legal challenges in the US often have importance beyond their shores. A case in point is the legal challenge brought by John Gilmore against the requirement to produce ID before boarding an airplane.

I won't go into all the details here, as Gilmore has an excellent web site with an explanation of his challenge and the political framework within which he is arguing. Suffice to say that it touches on rights guaranteed under the US Constitution to free speech and freedom of assembly, as well as the right to travel freely within the US.

I believe this case is worth watching and supporting because it touches on everything that has been happening since the relationship between citizens and their government was changed by events. From the Kennedy assassination, which justified extraordinary measures to protect the leader, through Nixon's corruption of state agencies to spy on and harass citizens, we can see the organs of state taking measures to insulate themselves from the public and from scrutiny, all in the name of national security.

We have seen the suspension of basic human rights in the name of the "War on xxx" (take your pick of drugs, terror, regime change, poverty) and the
militarization of the police in America. Comparing a London bobby on foot patrol to the average American cop with Kevlar body armour and automatic weapons, is to realize just how far things have slid when it comes to what is considered normal and acceptable.

The myriad security and intelligence agencies that have been spawned by state actors richly funded and seemingly answerable to no one is truly frightening. Reports of secret CIA flights carrying unnamed individuals to secret prisons in countries around the world under the doctrine of rendition (a fancy name for state kidnapping) only add to a picture of behaviour which values expediency and views human rights and individual liberty as
vexatious impediments to action.

Which brings me back to Gilmore. A self-made software entrepreneur, he has the resources and character to challenge this dangerous tilt towards state primacy over the individual.

The legal briefs filed as part of the case are listed on the web site and are very readable. The next hearing is on Dec. 8, 2005.

I wish him luck for all our sakes.

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