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Pyle: Human rights are for losers

Published August 23, 2013 4:50 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Breathes there a politician in all the land with the fortitude to protect our rights rather than his own reputation?

As more and more information is leaked, dragged and pried out of our government about the breadth of its global data-sweeping programs — kept improperly secret so that we can't even make an intelligent judgment as to whether they are effective or even remotely constitutional — about the only current or former leader with the guts to call it wrong is a one-term president whose name has become synonymous with political impotence.

Only Jimmy Carter has had the courage to say that all the goings-on that we aren't even allowed to discuss effectively render our democracy non-functional. And he said it in Germany, where no Americans were listening.

Some had hoped that, in the move from a crony capitalist from Texas (who was really born in Connecticut) to a semi-socialist from Kenya (who was really born in Hawaii), America might give up the trappings of a high-security state and again value freedom at least as highly as protection.

And, as we moved from President George W. Bush to President Barack H. Obama, some things changed. Torture was forsworn and secret prisons shuttered. Warrentless wiretapping was, supposedly, banned.

But the Guantanamo Bay prison is still open. And the secret court that is supposed to be protecting us all from unconstitutional searches knows only what the administration tells it and has its actions made known to the public it serves only as it pleases the administration to do so.

Or when activist groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation drags it out of them. As it did with Wednesday's revelation that even the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court — which never seemed to have met a wiretap or email sweep it didn't like — actually called the National Security Agency on the carpet for including perhaps tens of thousands of purely domestic messages in its supposed search of Internet communications among suspicious foreigners.

The Obama administration was merciless to Pfc. Bradley Manning, the very young man just convicted of leaking a flood of secret cables and communications to the anti-secrecy website Wikileaks.

Prosecutors tried to get Manning jailed for life, but only managed a sentence of 35 years (with parole eligibility after seven years) when the military judge refused to convict Manning of aiding the enemy, in part because nobody could name an enemy he might have been helping.

For eight months, Manning was in solitary for 23 hours a day, not allowed to read or watch TV, to wear his glasses or any clothing beyond boxer shorts, ostensibly for fear that he would harm himself with his own clothes. A United Nations review of his case found the treatment of Manning, who had not yet been convicted of a thing, amounted to torture.

The administration is also peeved because Russia has been harboring Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor who leaked a slug of documents that were secret because, well, because they were.

The renewed interest in such matters touched off by the Snowden case, meanwhile, has led to a lot more investigative reporting that has revealed, among other things, that the NSA and FBI spent the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City monitoring all email and text messages being sent to and from the area. Not just the points of origin and destination, as the NSA is supposedly doing with Internet traffic today, but the content of those messages.

Outrage at a practice that clearly violated the Fourth Amendment's bans on warrentless searches seems confined to Internet pros such as XMission founder Pete Ashdown. Supposedly conservative politicians, including then-Sen. Bob Bennett and now-Gov. Gary Herbert, are shrugging it off as just the kind of things security services do with memories of 9/11 still burning so bright.

Clearly, savvy politicians such as Bennett, Herbert and Obama believe that Americans will sit still for the systemic violation of every constitutional and ethical ban on such sweeping searches, but that we will hold them all personally accountable for the smallest hint of a terrorist attack, successful or otherwise.

When only Jimmy Carter dares to disagree, we see that putting human rights ahead of police-state tactics marks our politicians as losers. And will continue to, until the voters stand up and demand something else.

George Pyle, a Tribune editorial writer, would be grateful if the NSA would remind him of all the computer passwords he has forgotten over the years. gpyle@sltrib.com






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