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We Call Them Terrorists

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Americans just don't know their history, and that's why the National Defense Authorization bill currently rushing through Congress is causing a lot of unnecessary ruckus.

What ruckus, you ask? Well, it seems a handful of senators and human rights organizations are still complaining that the bill violates the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and habeas corpus protections that have been around for a thousand years just because, in its original form, the legislation would have given the executive branch the authority to deny suspected terrorists and U.S. citizens seized within U.S. borders the right to trial and subject them to indefinite detention.

But let's review where we are today. According to the most recent reports, lawmakers and the White House have re-negotiated the bill's language to make sure it remains scrupulously in keeping with the rule of law. As the bill now reads, it will simply deny suspected terrorists and U.S. citizens seized within U.S. borders the right to trial and subject them to indefinite detention (AP: House and Senate Agree on Sweeping Defense Bill, Dec. 13, 2011).

Despite these latest assurances, civil rights groups are continuing to press for a presidential veto of the bill! Either some people are very hard to please, or they are very ignorant. Let's review the facts.

First of all, nowhere in this bill does it say anything about arresting and holding indefinitely without trial ordinary Americans who were not doing anything wrong.

For the bill's critics, however, that is not enough. They think giving the state the formal authority to hold people forever without a civilian trial is going too far. Even in these dangerous times! Even when, as Senator Lindsey Graham put it, "we are facing an enemy who will do anything and everything to destroy our way of life!"

What is most outrageous of all, critics of the bill claim its provisions sound more like something from a totalitarian state than something appropriate for a democratic republic operating under the rule of law.

Nonsense. Let's compare what is being proposed here and the actual practices of real totalitarian states.

In Stalin's Russia, for example, the government sent into the gulag, or assassinated, friends of the state; or, as they put it at the time, friends of the people. A quick review of the newspapers Pravda and Izvestiia from the late 1930s makes this crystal clear ("Gosudarstvo kaznilo eshche 500 druzei naroda! Ura!" Pravda, Oct. 23, 1937; "State authorities put to death 500 more friends of the people! Hurrah!").

In actual totalitarian countries, friends of the state are the ones who are in danger. Here in America, nothing of the sort is even being contemplated. Here, only those clearly-labeled as enemies of the state are in any danger whatsoever of being held forever without trial. And if a terrorist is not an enemy, then just who is, may I ask?

Or let's take the case of Pinochet's Chile, where thousands of so-called "moderates and humanitarians" were arrested, subjected to torture, and disappeared. Or Hitler's Germany, where from the very beginning "defenseless folks just trying to look out a little bit for the other guy" were publicly denounced.

You get the picture. This is the way tyrannies work, and this is also why they are always so easy to detect, especially by the ordinary folks living inside one. Tyrants always openly and plainly declare war on regular folks, nice folks, people like you and me, and they make no bones about it. And why should tyrants care what people think? That's what makes them tyrants! They don't care!

Fortunately, the good old U.S. of A. couldn't be more different from any of these places. When our government arrests people and imprisons them without trial for the rest of their lives, we make sure to first call them publicly by their proper names. We call them terrorists.