Friday, July 12, 2013

An open letter to president Obama

Dear Mr. President,

I write as one who supported you with my vote and my campaign contributions in 2008 and 2012.  I read in the papers that you are considering ending the NSA surveillance program revealed by Edward Snowden.  I welcome this news, but I worry that you seem to have missed a much more basic and more important point.  The real issue is not the wiretaps, but rather your duplicity.  You ran your campaign specifically on being unlike George Bush and Dick Cheney, saying in 2007:
That means no more illegal wiretapping of American citizens. No more national security letters to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime. No more tracking citizens who do nothing but protest a misguided war. No more ignoring the law when it is inconvenient.
Now, I understand that you have not technically broken this promise.  Now that I understand better how to parse what you say, I see that your comments were very carefully crafted.  You didn't promise "no more wiretapping of American citizens", you promised "no more illegal wiretapping of American citizens."  You didn't promise "no more national security letters", you promised "no more national security letters to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime."  You didn't promise "no more tracking of citizens who do nothing but protest," you promised, "no more tracking of citizens who do nothing but protest a misguided war."  And you didn't promise "no more ignoring the law," you promised, "no more ignoring the law when it is inconvenient."

These are easy promises to keep if you construe them strictly: simply make wiretapping "legal" and you have no more illegal wiretaps.  Simply suspect everyone of a crime and you have no more tracking of anyone not suspected of a crime.  And you can keep a promise not to ignore the law when it's inconvenient simply by making it convenient to ignore the law.  Which appears to be exactly what you have done.

I don't know whether the NSA wiretaps were technically legal or not.  It is, in fact, impossible for me to know because the law is being kept secret, and, it is being kept secret at your behest.  If you think this is about quibbling over what is and isn't legal, or whether "technically" you fulfilled your promise, then you have missed the point rather badly.

The point is this: implicit in your words was a promise to be different from George Bush and Dick Cheney.  But in this, at least, you have proven to be no different.  You used the FISA court to do an end-run around the Constitution, and you did it in secret.  The real issue here is that you are endorsing the maintenance and expansion of a secret body of law.  The wiretaps themselves are almost a red herring.

The greatest evils in history have been done under the color of the law.  The Stasi was an evil organization, but it was not an illegal organization.  The concentration camps in North Korea are evil, but they are not illegal.  Killing innocent civilians is evil, but it is not illegal, at least not when the government does it.  If you still want to quibble over whether or not the wiretaps were legal, or if you think saying you will end them solves the problem, then you have still badly missed the point.

The point is this: a secret body of law is evil.  It is anathema to everything the United States of America is supposed to stand for.  It is anathema to democracy.  It is anathema to freedom.  It is anathema to government of the people, by the people and for the people.  Secret law is the express route to tyranny.

All this should be self evident to anyone who calls themselves an American.  Of course, we always knew that there were people like George Bush and Dick Cheney (and John McCain and Mitt Romney) who didn't get it.  That is why we voted for you.

But, apparently, you don't get it either.

That is the problem.  You promised us change.  You promised us hope.  You promised us a return to the core values that made this country great.  What you gave us was more wiretaps, more secret government, more doublespeak.  More of the same.

If you really want to make this right, Mr. President, saying you will stop the wiretaps is not enough.  For starters, how can we even trust you any more?  If not for the courage of Edward Snowden We the People would not have known of your current duplicity.  And with you bringing down the full might of the United States of America to hunt Snowden down, who knows if we will have such a savior in the future?

The problem, Mr. President, is that we cannot in good conscience trust you any more.  Worse, how can we trust the next politician who offers us hope and change and a return to the core values that made this country great?  The next time a politician tells us "yes we can" how will we believe them?  I don't know whether you couldn't or you wouldn't.  But I do know that you didn't.

And apparently you still don't.

If you really want to make this right, the first thing you have to do is call off the manhunt for Edward Snowden.  He has been offered and accepted formal political asylum.  The nation's interests are not well served by thumbing our noses at international law.

The next thing you have to do is come clean. Admit you were wrong.  Apologize.  Seek forgiveness.  Repudiate the concept of secret laws as anathema to the spirit of America.  Embrace the individual freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution, particularly the fourth and the too-often-neglected ninth amendment.  Embrace the idea that we are stronger, not weaker, when we trust the people, when we assume they are innocent until proven guilty, and when we are once again a place where people seek asylum rather than one against whose power asylum is sought.

Ron Garret
Redwood City, California


Anonymous said...

Thanks Ron.

Well written.


Ron said...

Thanks, Sven!