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The Fate of America's Justice System

Sunday, 01 August 2010 19:29
A Muslim-American child carries a flag at a rally, 05/09/08. (photo: Unspecified)

A Muslim-American child carries a flag at a rally, 05/09/08. (photo: Unspecified)



Reader Supported News | Perspective

n July 28, 2010, there appeared an important and tragic story on Its title was "US Army Veteran in Columbia Feels Like He Is Caught In a No-Fly Trap." It is the story of a 29-year-old US citizen by the name of Raymond Earl Knaeble. Knaeble had been working in Kuwait since 2006 for ITT Systems, Inc. In 2008 he converted to Islam and set up a web site devoted to correcting misunderstandings about the religion among English-speakers. He sought to demonstrate that Islam is a religion of peace. Recently, he flew from Kuwait to Bogota, Colombia, in order to join his fiancé. He then attempted to fly to the US in order to take a physical exam prior to beginning a new job with ITT in Qatar. At that point he was barred from boarding the airplane. It has been all downhill from there. Knaeble's job offer was withdrawn, and he ended up stranded and penniless in Colombia. When he asked the authorities why this was happening to him no one would tell him. However, it is obvious that the FBI had placed his name on its notorious no-fly list. That is how he became the American equivalent of Kafka's Josef K. in the "Trial."

This tragedy raises many questions about the present status of the American justice system, the marching orders of our bureaucracies, particularly the FBI, and just what is the worth of being an American citizen in 2010? Ever since the attacks of 9/11 there has been a serious erosion of our standards of justice. Indeed, there seems little doubt that the national government has taken it upon itself to selectively violate its own Constitution and laws. Thus, the government's assertion that it can hold American citizens and residents indefinitely without showing cause has undermined habeas corpus. The arbitrary assertion that it can listen in on lawyer-client discussions spells the death of that long-standing and necessary privilege. And the practice of kidnapping and torturing individuals worldwide has placed the United States in the position of being a great power running a worldwide terrorist operation. Allegedly, this last practice has been suspended.

It is through the practice of such policies, among others, that the marching orders given by Congress and the Executive to the government's "law enforcement" and "intelligence" agencies have been transformed. This has been accomplished by an apparent nod of approval given to the latent lawlessness inherent in all such bureaucracies. This might sound confusing, but the truth is that such agencies have two sets of rules that are not perfectly aligned. One set is the law of the land that the bureaucrats and agents are supposed to enforce and uphold. These laws are to apply to the actions of the agencies just like they apply to the behaviors of ordinary citizens. The other set is the package of internal customary rules of operation that are part of the culture of the bureaucracies themselves. These are shaped by years of practice, and may will allow or even encourage the cutting of legal corners in order to perform the agencies' missions in the most "effective" manner. There is a standing tension between the two sets of rules, but, under normal conditions, the rule of law should prevail. When it does not, one gets investigation and scandal. People often lose their jobs as a result. However, after 9/11, it seems that there was a purposeful turning of a blind eye when it came to the actions of agencies such as the FBI and CIA. All of a sudden the government as a whole seemed to adopt an unspoken position that the law should get out of the way of the mission. The Bush Justice Department began this corrupting practice, and the Obama administration has taken up the precedent.

As a consequence we can seriously ask the question, what is the worth of US citizenship under present conditions? Well, for Raymond Earl Knaeble, the answer is it is worth little or nothing. In fact, he would be much better off being the citizen of some other country. And he is not alone, for US citizens with close ties to the Muslim world are all at risk. Arab-Americans and Muslim-Americans now have to fight continuously for their basic rights as Americans. These members of our communities, as well as their supporters, are constantly plagued by bigots, hostile special interests, and what appears to be lawless bureaucrats working in agencies ranging from local sheriff's offices to the Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, to the FBI, and even to the State Department. Things have gotten so bad that the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has issued a traveler's alert on their web site warning Muslim-Americans of the risk of "forced exile" when traveling overseas. And here is another, personal, warning: those who travel to Israel-Palestine and end up harassed by Israeli soldiers while visiting the Occupied Territories should know that they will find little or no sympathy, much less assistance, from US counselor officials.

According to the Social Contract theory of government put forth by John Locke (1632-1704), the government is created to guarantee the rights of the citizens. The citizens, in turn, are obligated to support their government by, among other things, the payment of taxes and their loyalty, as long as those guarantees are maintained. That is why Locke describes the relationship between citizens and their government as a contract. Since Locke's day, citizens' rights have been extended beyond life, liberty and property to include, in the case of the US, all those rights and privileges enumerated in the Constitution. This list of rights is among the dwindling American attributes still admired worldwide. Finally, Locke is pretty explicit about what can happen if the government, by acting in violation of its own laws and constitution, breaks the contract. It seems to me that since 9/11, at least parts of the US government have been operating on or beyond the line of lawlessness.

Let's finish up with the same example we began with, that of Mr. Knaeble. He is not someone who has inadvertently fallen through the cracks. He is not like the main character in the story "A Man Without a Country," who cursed the United States and obviously wished the nation ill. Not at all. He is a victim of the lawless practices of a US police agency. In order to perform the mission of "fending off all possible threats to the US," Raymond Knaeble, and many more like him, have been sacrificed. This is the only conclusion that one can draw, because the FBI appears to be under no obligation, and thus unwilling, to provide any evidence, any cause, for acting the way it does. We are just asked to trust the bureaucrats when they claim to know something that we do not, and therefore accept that they can ruin this man's life with impunity. Obviously, someone has told the FBI that it can behave like the KGB.

That is where we stand, and it is a serious problem for all of us. Democratic governments should not function as enemies of their own laws. But they do so when they run so scared that the law is sacrificed to an impossible search for perfect security. Tip O'Neill, the famous and humorous Speaker of the House of Representatives (1977 to 1987), used to walk around with a small copy of the Constitution in his pocket. He was serious about that document. One wonders how many of his successors have even read the document. Tip O'Neill is dead now. Let's hope he did not take the Constitution with him to the grave.


Lawrence Davidson is a professor of Middle East history at West Chester University in Pennsylvania, and author of the works listed below.

Contributing Editor: Logos: A Journal of Modern Society & Culture

"Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America's National Interest"

"America's Palestine: Popular and Offical Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood"

"Islamic Fundamentalism"

Keep your eye on the language: When South Africa assigned rights according to race they called it apartheid. When Israel assigns rights according to religion they call it the only democracy in the Middle East.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News. your social media marketing partner


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+11 # Guest 2010-08-01 22:53
Rights? What good are rights on paper when the government denies them in practice?

To speak the truth now is probably considered either humorous, or unAmerican, or anti-Semitic. Or maybe not humorous.
+16 # Guest 2010-08-02 00:22
Of course! The Constitution was destroyed by the Supreme Court itself when it stopped a Florida recount in 2000, elevating an arbitrary deadline over the right of the people to have their votes properly processed. Bush lost the election but was installed as President. The erosion of law and justice that followed was culminated by the Patriot Act which effectively and severely restricts habeas corpus in the US. Add to this military commissions and courts and you now have 3 sets of law, rather than one that is based on the Constitution. Anyone can be arrested and held without the need to account publicly for their whereabouts. Nazi Germany had the so-called Night-and-Fog law, not much different from the Patriot Act provisions. People were picked up at night to disappear, often forever. Pete Edler, Stockholm
+4 # Guest 2010-08-02 09:57
Bingo! This is perhaps the most succinct and accurate post I've read about our dilemma. Well done, Mr. Edler!
+3 # Guest 2010-08-02 04:14
I have not flown, nor have I tried to fly, in an airplane since 2000. I will not attempt to fly. I don't even try to take trains or inter-city buses. I do not want to risk having to deal with the gestapo.
+2 # Guest 2010-08-02 04:19
Wonder if 9/11 was done by others than the Afghans, to give reason to control the American Justice System???
+11 # Guest 2010-08-02 06:54
One look at the roster of the Supreme Court tells it all. The Supremes represent the two most dogmatic and repressive religions in the world, and the two most anti-muslim religions. Freedom of religion? Freedom from religion? Freedom at all? The perversions of religion have nothing to do with godliness, yet they are invoked during campaign times as mantras to support candidates. God will bless America when America deserves it - and those of us who care had better stand and protect it.
+6 # Guest 2010-08-02 10:16
America today is a travesty, a caricature of democracy. The Congress has been bought, the Supreme Court is stacked with individuals with a political agenda The rich get richer, middle class and poor stagnate. There is no sense of social contract, dialogue at all levels lack civility and is most often deceitful. The country is deeply sick
+5 # Guest 2010-08-02 10:26
The recent resentencing of the distinguished civil rights lawyer, Lynne Stewart, to ten years in prison for violating a Special Administrative Measure (SAM) of the prison in which her client, Sheik Omar Abdul Rahman, was being held virtually incommunicado, is a prime example of this erosion of basic civil liberties once guaranteed to us under the Constitution. In her case, considering her age & state of health, this amounts to a death sentence for what barely amounts to a misdemeanor.
+1 # Guest 2010-08-02 12:07
You thought we have religious freedom??
The paranoia is rampant. And it is foolhardy to treat law-abiding muslim citizens badly. That is a sure way to make them hostile to our country. They do well here, because they have -until 9-11- been treated with respect.

In contrast England has discriminated against the muslims there and consequently they felt as a lot less than respected citizens. We saw the result of that. Many were shocked, that the terrorists had grown up in the country. Inferior treatment can obviously make people do horrible deeds

In our country you obviously can't say what you think either without consequences, Ted Kennedy was on a no fly list??????
+2 # Guest 2010-08-02 13:25
Thanks, BILL ONEILL - I'm 76, grew up in Hitler Germany, so
I have gut memories of what was going on then. Kids in my school class were marked with the Start-of-David insignia, then disappeared. Today, the markings and insignia are not much more subtle - poverty, skin color. accent, religious persuasion, you name it - so, as you say, BINGO! and you're gone - or at least you may be gone. Pete Edler, Stockholm
0 # Guest 2010-08-02 20:04
We are losing your generation, and the experience that came with it, at a time when we need it the most. Discrimination has become as slick as advertising, manipulating common standards of "right" and "wrong" until the worst becomes possible. We need your voice now, and the voices of those who grew up with you, to speak from experience and remind us all that while history may not repeat exactly, it will rhyme forever until we learn otherwise or we destroy ourselves.
+1 # Guest 2010-08-02 16:17
There is so much wrong now. Where do we start to fix it?

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