The organization that national health care reform spokesperson Wendell Potter works for (The Center for Media and Democracy) speaks truth on other issues too. Yesterday, Lisa Graves, the group’s E.D. testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on proposed improvements to the disastrous USA Patriot Act. Here is the excellent opening to her testimony:
Let me begin with someone far braver and more eloquent than me, Captain Ian Fishback, a U.S.soldier in Iraq who challenged the abuse of prisoners and wrote about ‘the larger question that this generation will answer’:
‘Do we sacrifice our ideals in order to preserve security? Terrorism inspires fear and suppresses ideas like freedom and individual rights. Overcoming the fear posed by terrorist threats is a tremendous test of our courage. Will we confront danger and adversity in order to preserve our ideals, or will our courage and commitment to individual rights wither at the prospect of sacrifice? My response is simple. If we abandon our ideals in the face of adversity and aggression, then those ideals were never really in our possession. I would rather die fighting than give up even the smallest part of the idea that is ‘America.”
I agree that we must transcend the fear others want to trigger in our hearts, and we need to summon tremendous courage to help preserve and restore ideals that truly make America the land of the free.
One of the challenges in this area is whether we have the will to see beyond a particular investigation or crisis, press for the truth, insist on answers, and demand the strong checks and balances that are essential to the idea of America. One of the most important reasons our system of government is so successful, why our democracy has endured, is that we set limits on government power. Elected leaders and government bureaucrats are bounded by the Constitution, laws passed by Congress, and the availability of review of actions taken by independent courts staffed with impartial judges. Checks on power help guarantee that we stay a free country, but these important checks have been greatly eroded.
That is why Americans from all walks of life have stood up against actions by a handful of leaders and operatives who acted in secret and in violation of our laws—with practices like monitoring Americans without court warrants or any proof of wrongdoing, detaining people in secret prisons without redress by the courts, and torture. The Chairman was right to call for a truth commission to ensure that there is accountability to our system of government. Unfortunately, that common sense call has been rebuffed, and the vacuum left by the lack of accounting has been filled with self-serving claims that these policies ‘work.’ And, there has been precious little space to have a real conversation about better alternatives that would be both more effective and more consistent with needed checks and balances.
While some of the powers at issue allow people to be monitored without any proof of wrongdoing, the government always concedes that conducting surveillance of everyone is not possible or efficient. But that concession masks the true extent and the true costs of the massive web of secret surveillance of Americans that has been erected over the past several years. Due to the cloak of secrecy that envelopes these powers, it is difficult to picture what is really happening behind closed doors. And, we want to believe that government agents are focused only on the bad guys, but the record tells a different story. Not only does evidence show that many innocent Americans are being secretly swept in, but also the record shows this is happening because of recent changes to how the law is written or interpreted, not in spite of the law. Meanwhile, key facts have been kept hidden or been disclosed quite selectively, while other ‘facts’ have turned out to be deliberately misleading, if not outright lies or propaganda. That is one of the reasons that while this debate is often cast in terms of the other, the enemy, it is more properly focused on what we stand for as a free people, what our rules should be for surveillance in this country, and whether we will call out misinformation and demand the truth as sovereign citizens.”