This week is Banned Books Week and the government, of all organizations, has added a book of its own by buying the entire first print run of Army Reserve Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer's memoir Operation Dark Heart. The book is about Shaffer's experiences in Afghanistan in 2003 when he worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency. While the content of the book was cleared by the Army Reserve, the Department of Defense took exception to certain things in Shaffer's writings and spent nearly $50,000 of your and my money to buy every copy of the book and destroy them.
Fortunately for free speech, the Pentagon neglected to obtain advance reader copies that the publisher sends out before any print runs are made. These copies are the final drafts of the book but have not been copy edited to a T, leaving some grammatical errors and typos that would not be found in the final product. It seems that one of these copies made it into the hands of Wikileaks. (A quick note: while many outlets are reporting that the Pentagon burned the books, begging for comparisons to Nazi Germany, official reports say that the books were "destroyed." The Pentagon would not answer my query as to what method of destruction the Pentagon uses for books it deems inappropriate for public consumption.)
The book destruction is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Obama administration hiding behind national security and state secrets. Recently his administration has taken a ludicrous stance in the Anwar al-Awlaki case, in which the government wants to put the New Mexico-born cleric on a capture-or-kill list of suspected terrorists, leaving open the option of assassination of an American citizen without due process of law.
I would expect the government to fight a lawsuit trying to prevent something like this, just as I would expect a leg to bounce up when its patellar reflex is hit with a tendon hammer. It is the assertion that the court should rule without looking at the merits of any future actions that could potentially be taken against the cleric that goes beyond the pale. They say that targeting in wartime is a matter for presidents and presidents alone.
Here's the problem with that. Anwar al-Awlaki is in Yemen, a country with which we are not at war. Secondly, there are three branches in this country's government for a reason and to tell the judicial branch to make a decision not based on merit, but on the desires of the executive flies in the face of Marbury v. Madison. Given the abuses of power of the previous administration, I think most folks in the country are weary of the "Just believe us, we know what we're doing," rationale.
Don't mistake my opposition to the Obama administration's hollow justifications as a defense of al-Awlaki. They're not. Instead they are defenses of this country's freedoms and they are respect for its system of laws and justice. If we bend the rules for al-Awlaki, we set a very dangerous precedent for other American citizens.
What the Obama administration is doing is nothing new. Every presidential administration in this country has understood the importance of information and, to some extent, has tried to control it. This does not make it any more justifiable to destroy thousands of books approved by the Army Reserve or to assassinate American citizens outside of a war zone. While the saying has become cliched, knowledge is power. This government wants to deprive its citizens of information and, thus, power. This is unacceptable.
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