A Nation of Suspects
Indeed, the interests of the oppressors lie in ‘changing the consciousness of the oppressed, not the situation which oppresses them‘- – Paulo Freire
The illegal domestic wiretapping of all Americans, the invasive search practices at every airport directed at every single US passenger, the compilation of all data on all citizens in not only one but multiple government databases, the unreasonable and warrantless search and seizure practiced on US masses facilitated arbitrarily by the FBI, are among many known and unknown government practices directed at the entire population of the United States of America.
Despite the current futility, many constitutionalists, legalists, analysts, and activists are writing, talking, and arguing about the legality or illegality, constitutionality or unconstitutionality, practicality or impracticality, of these surveillance and search practices of our ‘National Security State.’ There is a plethora of material out there for you to read or listen to on those points, so there is no need for me to cover all that has been covered already; over and over. I am not going to discuss the tedious and ambiguous laws, nor am I going to waste time on the vague and irrelevant notion of and argument on security. No. I intend to focus on the subjects of these practices; the people; the masses, in fact, the entire population as the willing recipients who have come to view and accept themselves as suspects. Isn’t this what we have become; a nation of suspects?
No one any longer questions the fact that our government has been engaged in domestic surveillance of our communication systems. The news came out. The practitioners admitted to it, in fact, proudly. These activities were challenged in courts and the challenges overridden, thus making the legality or illegality, constitutionality or unconstitutionality, all irrelevant; moot. Several years have passed and it has become, it is, a fact of life; a fact in every American’s life. And for the majority, not a painful or aggravating fact of life; just ‘a fact’ of life. Why?
Many say ‘look, there are these bad guys out there called terrorists. The government is out there looking for them; everywhere. I ain’t doing nothin wrong, and I ain’t got nothin to hide. So why should I be concerned? My government is doing it to keep me, to keep us all, safe; to protect us against those bad terrorist people lurking here and there…’
If you were to ask most ‘but why do they tap your phone line and capture your data or conversation? You the good citizen?‘ The common answer would be along these lines, ‘I don’t know. They must know something. I don’t understand how intelligence and police stuff like this works. They must know something, if they think tapping my phone and listening to my conversation helps to fight terrorists and keep us safe…I just do my own thing and since I don’t have anything to hide it doesn’t bother me. They’ve got to do what they’ve got to do to protect us…’
Most of you know that the above dialogue is more or less what we get everywhere with almost everyone. I have had that exact same conversation with tens if not hundreds of people, and I can assure you that the above rendition is in no way exaggerated or downplayed. It is the general attitude. It is the common thought and response process. It is a fact of today’s life expressed by today’s people in our country. And to recognize these common beliefs, to draw the most logical conclusion, takes neither a genius nor a philosopher nor a psychologist…But let’s move to the next related fact, and see that same logical conclusion.
Starting immediately after the September 11 terrorist attacks, we began to see, and of course become subject to, jacked up security check points and searches in our airports. First, they already had us all going through big complex metal detectors. Then, they had us do the same thing but remove our belts and other metal containing garments and belongings. Then, they had us bend over like servants before kings, remove our shoes, and humbly walk barefoot through the big complex metal detectors. After that, they prohibited us from carrying our drinking water or any other liquid, and they made our lactating women open up their stored breast milk and sip it before the eyes of the traveling masses passing by…
Meanwhile we learned of their massive databases on fliers, where over one million people were divided into no fly lists, almost no fly lists, and maybe no fly lists, with further division into high-risk fliers, medium-risk fliers, and low-risk fliers…But, despite all these massive, complex and secret multiple lists and databases, we all had to go through those same detectors, with no shoes, no liquids, supposed random but all too frequent pat downs…So we never understood the rationale for having all those lists and databases anyway. No worries. We, most of us, said, ‘we may not understand, it may not make the slightest sense, it can defy all logic…but that doesn’t matter. The government must know things we don’t, and they are protecting us against the big bad terrorists…’ So we went on, kept putting up.
Recently, they said all those practices were not nearly enough, so they’ve been erecting body-scanner temples at security checkpoints, and asking us to step in them to be viewed naked-breasts, penises, arses and all. To be technically correct, they are not forcing us to go through the scanners; in fact, they are giving us options:
-You either step in the scanners and let us view you, all your private parts naked, or,
-You go through grabbing, groping, patting, and worse one-on-one searches.
They have been proudly justifying these invasive procedures by presenting them as reasonable options for people to choose from. Think of a rapist saying the following in court:
‘But I gave her a choice, and I made it clear. I said you either submit willfully and quietly while I rape you, or, you can fight and I’ll beat the hell out of you while I’m raping you….’
We’ve been complying with all that. We get to the checkpoints, and as one woman told me:
‘I just go into this auto pilot mode. I remove my shoes and other items. I move forward towards the screening machine while looking into empty space and avoiding any eye contact. I step in there, slightly spread my arms and legs, pause, and step out on the other side. I then let out a deep breath for making it, without sounding off any alarm bells, and without having to be touched, groped and patted everywhere…Then I walk away quickly and try to wipe away all the memories of those long minutes…It’s the best way to deal with these things…’
Again, this sounds very familiar. Just read through documented victim accounts on dealing with highly traumatic experiences. I used to read about and listen to such victims. A woman telling the story of being molested and raped by her father:
‘I used to pretend not being there…you know, almost like an out of body experience. He’d quietly come to my room, his breath reeking with alcohol…I’d close my eyes when he pulled down my panties…I’d spread my legs, close my eyes, and imagine not being there…imagine it was not happening…It was quicker that way. He’d be done and gone. And I would go on trying to forget, pretending I forgot…trying to erase all the memories and the feeling of being violated…’
Doesn’t it feel that way? Don’t we feel violated? Don’t we feel powerless? Doesn’t it feel like total submission to a force greater than any one of us, and obviously the total of all of us?
Think about it. Many elementary schools bring in law enforcement or psychology experts to educate our children about abduction, molestation, rape, etc. One of the things they try to teach our children, in simple and easy to understand language, has to do with recognizing ‘danger’ or ‘criminal’ or ‘wrong’ behavior, approaches, and requests, and to say ‘no,’ or walk away from predators who initiate them. One of the main things they teach:
It is not right or good if people, even friends and family, ask to see your private parts. That’s why we call them ‘private parts.’ They are private. We say ‘no’ if someone asks us to see our private parts. We don’t let people touch our private parts. We run and report to our parents if someone tries to touch our private parts. It is not right. No one should be asking you, or do to you, things like that…
Now, with all the transportation procedures, security screening rules, shouldn’t they add a qualifier to above lecture-training points? Something like:
It is not right or good if people, even friends and family, ask to see your private parts. That’s why we call them ‘private parts.’ … We say ‘no’ if someone asks us to see our private parts. We don’t let people touch our private parts… However, if it’s TSA screeners at the airports, if it’s the security police in front of the congressional building, if it’s the …then all bets are off. You have to let them do whatever they ask you to do. It is okay for TSA men and women to see your private parts. It is perfectly okay, if they pick you for random additional search, and touch your private parts; grope, pat your private body parts. Then, it is okay.
Let’s use common sense here my friends. When put in writing it may sound disgusting or outrageous to some of you, but isn’t it true? Don’t they view us and our children, and all our private parts with their new body-scanner temples? Don’t they give us a thorough pat down, everywhere, including our private parts when we say no to their temples, or, when we become the chosen random one for one-on-one pat down?
What will you tell your kids when they say, ‘But daddy, they told us at school not to let people touch us down there! How come this guy is touching me here?’ No, you tell me, what will you tell your kid when he or she innocently, but far more rationally, asks you that question?!
Now let’s go back to our submission to total surveillance in the name of vague and irrational security. Most people I know, in fact everyone I know in this country, has a reasonable expectation of privacy. Even with our spouses we adhere to respected privacy ethics. You certainly would not like or tolerate it if your partner were to go through your private mail, open and read it. No matter how innocent, worthless or trivial the content of the envelopes. You would be livid to find out your partner has discovered your password to your personal e-mail accounts, and has been reading your correspondence with others. No matter how innocent or unimportant the nature of those communications. You would be outraged if your spouse picked up the phone upstairs and listened in to your conversation with a friend. No matter what the nature or importance of that particular call. Then how is it that all these expectations of privacy, the sense of being violated when that privacy is invaded, and the swift and firm response to these violations, all go out the window when the violators happen to be total strangers hidden in secret castles of our government?
Somehow the same justification, ‘Oh, I’m not doing anything wrong, and I don’t have anything to hide…’ does not wash away the justified feeling of being violated. For some reason, lines like ‘he/she was doing it for my own good, to protect me better, or, to just make sure I wasn’t engaged in anything nefarious or dangerous…’ would seem utterly irrational or stupid. Yet, we’ve been practicing this irrational distinction with far more outrageous violations of privacy inflicted upon us on a daily basis, and by those we don’t even know – to know the extent of the damages they may be able to bring down upon our lives.
When did we make these decisions? When did we decide to put in place and live by these distinctions? When did unreasonable search practices somehow come to be accepted as reasonable? When did we accept being watched, being searched and patted down, being treated, and simply living as suspects?
Whether it’s carrying out a conversation over the phone, whether it’s writing a quick e-mail to a colleague, whether it’s flying home to Milwaukee to see your grandmother for one last time, we, every single one of us, are being listened to, watched and read, and invasively searched as suspects. No matter how clean our background and criminal history, no matter how virtuous our daily lives and conduct, no matter how exemplary our citizenry…no matter; we are all suspects.
Are we witnessing our transformation into Orwellian masses? Because these incremental applications of indiscriminate government surveillance and warrantless-reasonless searches and seizure targeting the entire population, are geared to desensitize, degrade, and ultimately and inevitably, to dehumanize us all.
One of the notions we once tried to live by and be proud of was ‘innocent until proven guilty.’ Now, it seems we are all guilty until…well, until the end of time? Until the end of the last terrorist on earth has been announced? Until we say enough is enough and stand up for our own rights, privacy, dignity, and freedom?
Here is an excerpt from an article published in 2005:
Metro police officers are using new behavioral profiling techniques as they patrol subway stations, identifying suspicious riders and pulling them aside for questioning.
The officers are targeting people who avoid eye contact, loiter or appear to be looking around transit stations more than other passengers, officials said. Anyone identified as suspicious will be stopped and questioned about what they are doing and where they are going.
As part of their preparations for tighter security during the presidential inauguration, the officers have been trained by the Transportation Security Administration to take notice of the same behavioral characteristics and patterns that airport security officials watch for.
Orwellian, isn’t it?
It was terribly dangerous to let your thoughts wander when you were in any public place or within range of a telescreen. The smallest thing could give you away. A nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself—anything that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality, of having something to hide. In any case, to wear an improper expression on your face … was itself a punishable offense. There was even a word for it in Newspeak: facecrime …- – George Orwell