The new police state?

In the last few days there have been some very troubling developments, both here in Australia and in the U.S., regarding the infringement of personal liberty and the degradation of democratic principles.

In the U.S., since the beginning of the war in Afghanistan, there has been much controversy surrounding the detention of terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, who are being held indefinitely and without charge. Now it appears that the ability of the state to arbitrarily detain people is being extended not just to foreign suspects captured on foreign soil, but also to U.S. citizens captured on U.S. soil. According to this article from the Washington Post, a federal appeals court has ruled that the President has the authority to indefinitely detain U.S. citizens captured on U.S. soil, without charge.

At home, according to this article from the ABC, a U.S. peace activist has been arrested and faces deportation. No charges have been laid against him and no reason has been given for his deportation.

Both of these developments, especially the former since it deals with a country’s own citizens, are very troubling. One of the fundamental tenets of democracy is the existence of a transparent judicial system in which people may not be punished for a crime unless proven guilty, have the right to know what they are accused of, and have the right to defend themselves against accusations. Throughout recent history, the breakdown of these fundamental rights has typically preceded transitions to totalitarianism. While I sincerely hope that this is not the case now, these developments give much credence to the many critics who claim that current anti-terrorism laws are being used as a pretext for expanded state control over the individual.

3 thoughts on “The new police state?”

  1. An observation I have constantly held. It concerns me greatly that an alien power [US] can detain and hold an Australian National,and continues to do so [going into the 5th year] without giving him the right to a fair trial .Our Federal Government still continues to do nothing. The bigger case for worry ,is of course the lethargic mindset of the Australian public as our civil liberties are slowly being eroded under the pretext of theTerrorist[s] and their threat to our “Aussie way of life”
    I wonder who is doing the better job here, Osama or George Bush aided and abeted by John Howard.

  2. Arbitrary arrests and deportations are only one of the many features of a police state, and they are just at the end of the chain of “events”, so to say. More basic “events” are the extreme concentration in very few hands of the power to influence people, i.e., of media ownership. Fox in the U.S. and, on an international scale, the Murdoch Media are a good example. With regard to Australia, there are only two large media enterprises, Murdoch and Fairfax, and although they differ in degree of political inclination, they are not really too different (after all, both want money from advertisements and they would not dare to deviate too far from what is good for business although not necessarily for society). It is fairly obvious that the Murdoch press, in particular, follows a distinctive political line in all important issues, which is conservative (or neo-conservative) in American jargon, or liberal in Australian jargon (there are, perhaps, exceptions, e.g. the Times). To camouflage the whole thing, papers may well differ from the government in secondary issues, but when it becomes critical (e.g. at election time) editors close ranks. Fox news comments on issues like the Iraq war are almost farcical for their obvious distortion of the truth and playing up to the rulers. Media make the public gullible. How otherwise could one explain that the majority of people accept infringements of their democratic rights?

    The internet (such as blogs) of course permits publication of non-conformist views, but the political opinion of how many people is affected by it? (A statistical evaluation repeated from time to time would be revealing).

    An important point is that media concerns function like any other economic concern. They are exposed to free market forces, which leads to an ever increasing concentration (the larger swallows the smaller), subject to certain government regulations which differ between countries and tend to be watered down over time. Governments want to remain in power and are therefore interested in supporting such concentration. Parties that oppose it will be diadvantaged because they lose the support of the media. An almost classical example of positive feedback.

    A horror scenario: the apparent interest (reported in the press) of Murdoch to form some sort of link with Telstra, leading to a truly vast media empire which may fill the hearts of free market fundamentalists with joy, but those who want an open society with horror.

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