Turk’s Police State Update 2012

2012 January 9
by Turk Studzel

President Obama’s New Year’s Eve signing of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), with its provisions for the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens, made 2011 a banner year for the Amerikkkan Police State, which is growing fatter and meaner by the minute. If last year’s police response to mounting popular protest seemed disproportionate and over-the-top, wait till you see what 2012 brings! With our “democratic” system in full swing this presidential election year, you can bet that billions of Homeland Security dollars will be spent keeping consumers safe from dissent, in addition to the billions spent by the FBI, CIA, NSA, ATF, DEA, SS, and thousands of state and municipal police forces around the country. As the world descends into a period of economic contraction and political crisis, what Louis Althusser called the “Repressive State Apparatus” (RSA) is lurching into action; here we look at some of the top stories to watch in the portentous year of 2012:

1. Indefinite Military Detention

Thanks to the abovementioned NDAA, U.S. citizens can now be arrested by the U.S. military on American soil — or anywhere else in the world for that matter — and held indefinitely in a military brig without any guarantee of a hearing or trial for as long as the government wants. By signing this monstrosity, in one fell swoop our Harvard-constitutional-lawyer-Nobel-Laureate-first-black-president laid waste to both the habeas corpus guarantee of due process, and the posse comitatus restrictions on domestic policing by the military. Ironic, huh? Remember: “They hate us for our freedom.”

Some Obama supporters suggest that the president was forced to sign the bill by the mean Republicans in Congress, and that we shouldn’t worry because he has no intention of enforcing the “indefinite detention” part on Americans. Indeed, Obama has issued a so-called “signing statement” which makes this promise: “I want to clarify that my Administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens. Indeed, I believe that doing so would break with our most important traditions and values as a Nation.”

But is it churlish to point out that our president has changed his mind about so very many things since his election? Or that there’s little reason to have confidence that Obama’s successors will share his respect (LOL!) for “our most important traditions and values”?

2. Extrajudicial Execution

Of course, some cynics say that signing the NDAA was really no big deal — in 2010, Obama had already claimed executive privilege to target U.S. citizens and others for “extrajudicial execution”, using a secret list drawn up by a secret committee to identify “enemies of the State” for eradication — so what’s a little indefinite detention when you’ve already got a due-process-free death penalty?

In fact, 2011 marks the first such “extrajudicial execution” that we know of, which occurred on September 30, when Hellfire missiles fired from two Predator drones over Yemen killed Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen born in New Mexico and a graduate of Colorado State and San Diego State universities. Also killed in al-Awlaki’s execution was U.S. citizen Samir Khan, editor of an anti-U.S. website Inspire!. Both men were vocal opponents of U.S foreign policy in the Middle East and self-proclaimed jihadists, advocating armed resistance against American aggression in the region. Nevertheless, there has been no public evidence forthcoming regarding their complicity in any kind of capital offense (nor is any expected), and their propaganda activity was clearly protected under the First Amendment, whether our government likes it or not.

An image of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, the son of Anwar al-Awlaki, posted on a Facebook page dedicated to his memory

The second such “extrajudicial execution” occurred two weeks later on October 14, 2011, when Anwar al-Awlaki’s 16 year-old son, an American citizen born in Denver, was also killed by Predator drone in Yemen, along with nine others. A U.S. official said the young man “was in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Indeed.

3. The Drone War Comes to the Homeland

Now it’s one thing to kill U.S. citizens with funny-sounding Muslim names over in godforsaken places like Yemen, but does that mean we’ll soon see Predator drones turned on U.S. citizens on American soil?  In fact, “Yes!” — because of a number of events in 2011, the coming year may be a banner year for drones in the United States. Consider the following from the December 10 Los Angeles Times:

Armed with a search warrant, Nelson County Sheriff Kelly Janke went looking for six missing cows on the Brossart family farm in the early evening of June 23. Three men brandishing rifles chased him off, he said.

Janke knew the gunmen could be anywhere on the 3,000-acre spread in eastern North Dakota. Fearful of an armed standoff, he called in reinforcements from the state Highway Patrol, a regional SWAT team, a bomb squad, ambulances and deputy sheriffs from three other counties.

He also called in a Predator B drone.

As the unmanned aircraft circled 2 miles overhead the next morning, sophisticated sensors under the nose helped pinpoint the three suspects and showed they were unarmed. Police rushed in and made the first known arrests of U.S. citizens with help from a Predator, the spy drone that has helped revolutionize modern warfare.

But Predators, which cost $5 to $15 million depending on how they’re equipped, are too expensive and technologically sophisticated for most police work; in all likelihood the coming boom in domestic drones will depend on a growing line of cheaper Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) like the ShadowHawk unmanned helicopter, whose $300,000 price tag is attractive to many smaller police agencies, especially when the Dept. of Homeland Security is footing the bill. This was the case in October 2011, when the Montgomery County Sheriff near Houston, Texas, became the first civilian law enforcement agency to purchase a ShadowHawk, which at seven-feet long can be easily transported in a pickup or SUV, but nevertheless be equipped with sophisticated night-vision cameras and non-lethal weapons like Tasers and guns that fire bean-bag rounds. Watch out down there, Occupiers!

Law enforcement agencies across the nation are likely to follow the Montgomery County Sheriff’s lead, now that a major impediment to  drones in U.S. airspace has been cleared away.  You see, prior to 2011, the Federal Aviation Administration kept a tight leash on UAVs operating in the crowded airspace of the United States; but last spring, spurred by the lobbying of drone manufacturers, Congress passed an amendment to an FAA reauthorization bill (S. 223) that creates test zones for the introduction of drones into general airspace, opening the way for their more widespread use. Now wasn’t that forward looking? As the Washington Post noted in January 2011, police agencies and the Department of Homeland Security are especially eager to have drones at their disposal:

…by 2013, the FAA expects to have formulated new rules that would allow police across the country to routinely fly lightweight, unarmed drones up to 400 feet above the ground – high enough for them to be largely invisible eyes in the sky.

Such technology could allow police to record the activities of the public below with high-resolution, infrared and thermal-imaging cameras.

One manufacturer already advertises one of its small systems as ideal for “urban monitoring.” The military, often a first user of technologies that migrate to civilian life, is about to deploy a system in Afghanistan that will be able to scan an area the size of a small town. And the most sophisticated robotics use artificial intelligence to seek out and record certain kinds of suspicious activity.

With the above in mind, consider the implications of a recent Washington Post report titled, “Under Obama, an Emerging Global Apparatus for Drone Killing”:

In the space of three years, the administration has built an extensive apparatus for using drones to carry out targeted killings of suspected terrorists and stealth surveillance of other adversaries. The apparatus involves dozens of secret facilities, including two operational hubs on the East Coast, virtual Air Force­ ­cockpits in the Southwest and clandestine bases in at least six countries on two continents.

… no president has ever relied so extensively on the secret killing of individuals to advance the nation’s security goals.

The rapid expansion of the drone program has blurred long-standing boundaries between the CIA and the military. Lethal operations are increasingly assembled a la carte, piecing together personnel and equipment in ways that allow the White House to toggle between separate legal authorities that govern the use of lethal force.

For the police and military, the attraction of drones is their ability to, in effect, “loiter” over an area indefinitely, invisible to the naked eye but capable of relaying extremely high-definition video to ground controllers. When lethally armed, drones function as omniscient executioners, ready to strike as the earliest sign of misbehavior;  hearing drone engines overhead, but unable to see the aircraft, Afghan and Pakistani civilians report living in constant dread that any moment they could be targeted for death. O Panoptic Executioners of the Air!

4. The Domestic War

According to a recent account by the Center for Investigative Reporting and the Daily Beast, the Department of Homeland Security has disbursed more than $34 billion in the last decade to equip local police departments with military hardware and training. As the Daily Beast notes, “The buying spree has transformed local police departments into small, army-like forces, and put intimidating equipment into the hands of civilian officers.” For example, Fargo, North Dakota, which has averaged two homicides per year since 2005, has spent $8 million to ensure that:

Every city squad car is equipped today with a military-style assault rifle, and officers can don Kevlar helmets able to withstand incoming fire from battlefield-grade ammunition. And for that epic confrontation—if it ever occurs—officers can now summon a new $256,643 armored truck, complete with a rotating turret…

Law enforcement officials say the armored vehicles, assault weapons, and combat uniforms used by their officers provide a public safety benefit beyond their advertised capabilities, creating a sort of “shock and awe” experience they hope will encourage suspects to surrender more quickly.

For an example of how these storm troopers may be used in the coming months and years, see November’s SWAT assault on a group of Occupy protesters in Chapel Hill, NC who had “appropriated” a long-vacant car dealership and handed out fliers that “proposed a possible new use for the space that would include a free clinic, kitchen, child care, library and dormitories, among other uses.” Calling this an “anarchist” threat, Chapel Hill sent in 25 heavily armed officers of its SWAT team to retake the building.Read more here.

Chapel Hill SWAT team disables "anarchist" threat

5. FEMA Concentration Camps?

My prediction for the coming year: the mystery will begin to unravel about those strange Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) camps for which the Bush administration awarded $385 million to Halliburton/KBR.

Happy New Year!

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