"As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression.... There is a twilight when everything remains seemingly unchanged. And it is in such a twilight that we must be most aware of change in the air -- however slight -- lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness." -- William O. Douglas, US Supreme Court Justice from 1939--1975
US flag at Guantanamo
© Brennan Linsley/Pool/Reuters
A US flag waves within the razor wire-lined compound of Camp Delta prison at Guantánamo Bay in 2006
Ever since the US Senate approved the infamous FY 2012 National Defense Authorization Act I have been in a very pessimistic mood. A few days ago there was hope that Obama would veto it - not because the man and his lawyers had concerns about the beating that civil and human rights would take thereby, but because the language would "challenge or constrain the president's ability to collect intelligence, incapacitate dangerous terrorists, and protect the American people"; in other words, because the authority of the president could somehow be limited (God forbid). Now that slim hope is gone; Obama has withdrawn the threat of veto and nothing stands in the way of an iron boot kicking any of us, American or not, all the way to Guantanamo Bay.

Could it be any worse than that? The situation was bad already with Bush and his gang of neocons pushing the envelope on shredding the U.S. Constitution. Remember how naive we were to entertain the idea that a change of administration would put all that draconian nonsense to an end? That Barack Obama really was about "Change" and would put things to right that had gone so wrong under the Bush Administration? Some people still hold on to that hope because they genuinely believe that the United States is an essentially democratic country which works on solid principles of morality and justice, even if now and then it gets sidetracked. Surely good-looking, well-spoken Barack would make things right, yes?

As someone who was born and raised south of the border, I always found the myopic belief of the American people in their institutions and government quite alien to my own experience. In my country people also believe in democracy and justice, but only as principles that hopefully can be materialized one day. The overwhelming majority is naturally distrustful of their government, thanks to its long history of corruption and the social inequalities that come with it. Likewise, they are distrustful of the US government which so much likes to get involved in the affairs of other countries. In contrast, the American culture that reached me through the mass media portrayed people quite proud of their government and the military. (The military! Where I come from the military is only thought of in the most derogatory terms when, at 17-18 years old, you are trying your best to avoid military service, and you would certainly be considered to be out of your mind or in desperate need if you chose a military career.)

When I was younger this American pride produced in me a mixture of admiration and jealousy. Later, as I got better acquainted with politics and American intervention, I regarded this attitude with puzzlement and contempt. In recent years I have felt mostly sorry for the ignorance most US citizens are forced to live in, and admiration for those precious few who can see the true nature of their authorities and have the courage to speak up, and who have taught me so much. I have also tried to understand that many Americans, having enjoyed excellent living-standards for generations, never got bitten by the consequences of the corruption, greed and imperialism of their leaders.

Until now, that is.

"All hope abandon, ye who enter here! " - Dante Alighieri
The Guardian reports on the NDAA:
Prisoner at Guantanamo Bay
© AFP
Guards escort a prisoner in the ubiquitous orange suit at Guantanamo Bay.
Barack Obama has abandoned a commitment to veto a new security law that allows the military to indefinitely detain without trial American terrorism suspects arrested on US soil who could then be shipped to Guantánamo Bay.

Human rights groups accused the president of deserting his principles and disregarding the long-established principle that the military is not used in domestic policing. The legislation has also been strongly criticised by libertarians on the right angered at the stripping of individual rights for the duration of "a war that appears to have no end".

The law, contained in the defence authorisation bill that funds the US military, effectively extends the battlefield in the "war on terror" to the US and applies the established principle that combatants in any war are subject to military detention.
If you have any doubts that the above is what is actually being turned into law, I suggest you read Glenn Greenwald's excellent explanation of the bill before proceeding.

Now let's break down what the law proposes and think of the implications.

"Allows the military to detain" - In democratic societies civilian authorities administer justice and crime prevention and persecution. That is what the police force is there for. The involvement of the military in these matters forces the imposition of the logic of war. A common criminal retains rights; an enemy does not. In the words of Senator Lindsey Graham:
"We're facing an enemy, not a common criminal organisation, who will do anything and everything possible to destroy our way of life," he said. "When you join Al-Qaeda you haven't joined the mafia, you haven't joined a gang. You've joined people who are bent on our destruction and who are a military threat."
But this enemy-not-criminal argument is based on a lie. Al-Qaeda, if it even exists at all, is far from being a military threat to anyone.

Writing in 2004, journalist Jason Burke explained that Al-Qaeda is not the "fantastically powerful network comprising thousands of trained and motivated men" around the globe that it is commonly believed to be. Islamic militants always understood the term 'qaeda' in the sense of "precept" or "method", so when Abdullah Azzam, the chief ideologue of the non-Afghan militants who joined the Mujahideen to fight the Soviets and a spiritual mentor of bin Laden, called for al-qaeda al-sulbah ('a vanguard of the strong') in 1987, he was referring to a mode of activism, a tactic and an ideal, not an organization. Al-Qaeda only evolved into resembling something like an organized group between 1996 and 2001. Even then, writes Burke, it was centered around a small core of only between fifty and a hundred committed militants which provided funding and advice to different groups from all over the Islamic world. But seeing that group "as a coherent and structured terrorist organization with cells everywhere" or containing "all other groups within its networks" would be "to profoundly misconceive its nature and the nature of modern Islamic militancy." The group was not even called 'Al-Qaeda' by its own members. "It was the FBI", he writes, "during its investigation of the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in East Africa - which dubbed the loosely linked group of activists that Osama bin Laden and his aides had formed as 'al Qaeda'." By 2004, Burke concluded, the structure in Afghanistan had been destroyed, and bin Laden and his associates scattered, arrested or killed. In his opinion, what remained was al-Qaeda's worldview, with adherents among many groups. [Jason Burke, 'Al Qaeda', Foreign Policy (May/June, 2004): 18-20; Jason Burke, Al-Qaeda: The True Story of Radical Islam (UK: Penguin Books, 2004)]

Perhaps even Burke's view that the "Al-Qaeda worldview" remains is also mistaken. The following article came to our attention last year:
London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), is the world's leading think tank for military affairs. It represents the top echelon of defence experts, retired officers and senior military men, spanning the globe from the United States and Britain to China, Russia and India.

I've been an IISS member for over 20 years. IISS's reports are always authoritative but usually cautious and diplomatic, sometimes dull. However, two weeks ago the IISS issued an explosive report on Afghanistan that is shaking Washington and its Nato allies.

The report, presided over by the former deputy director of Britain's foreign intelligence agency, MI-6, says the threat from al-Qaeda and Taliban has been "exaggerated" by the western powers. The US-led mission in Afghanistan has "ballooned" out of all proportion from its original aim of disrupting and defeating al-Qaeda. The US-led war in Afghanistan, says IISS, using uncharacteristically blunt language, is "a long-drawn-out disaster".

Just recently, CIA chief Leon Panetta admitted there were no more than 50 members of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Yet US President Barack Obama has tripled the number of US soldiers there to 120,000 to fight Al Qaeda.

The IISS report goes on to acknowledge the presence of western troops in Afghanistan is actually fuelling national resistance. I saw the same phenomena during the 1980's Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

Interestingly, the portion of the report overseen by the former MI-6 Secret Intelligence Service deputy chief, Nigel Inskster, finds little Al Qaeda threat elsewhere, notably in Somalia and Yemen. Yet Washington is beefing up its attacks on both turbulent nations.
Former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook - now deceased - had this to say about the term "Al-Qaeda":
Bin Laden was, though, a product of a monumental miscalculation by western security agencies. Throughout the 80s he was armed by the CIA and funded by the Saudis to wage jihad against the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. Al-Qaida, literally "the database", was originally the computer file of the thousands of mujahideen who were recruited and trained with help from the CIA to defeat the Russians. Inexplicably, and with disastrous consequences, it never appears to have occurred to Washington that once Russia was out of the way, Bin Laden's organisation would turn its attention to the west.
So if the US military wants to detain supporters of the non-threatening, petty group known as Al-Qaeda, composed of some 50 men scattered in the mountains of Afghanistan, aka "enemies", perhaps they should start by asking questions at the headquarters of the CIA in Langley, Virginia, and leave the civilian population alone? Add to all this nonsense the evidence that contradicts the official story of the attacks of 9/11 - evidence which indicates that the attacks were planned and performed by groups other than those 50 Afghan database members - and the idea that the US is under military threat from terrorist groups evaporates into thin air.

"Indefinitely" - How much can a single word change! I still remember back when the UK, under Tony Blair, debated if terrorist suspects should be detained 28 or an astounding 90 days; that is, 90 days in prison, just in case you do turn out to be a terrorist! If you weren't, well we are so sorry, that's tough but don't expect us to give you a written apology. But the NDAA boldly goes where no other draconian law has gone before: all the way to "indefinite". Which means that if there is any chance you might be a terrorist, even if there is no evidence to support it, you can be detained until, say, the end of your days. Sorry again if we got the wrong guy!

"Without trial" - Does this need any comment? You are taken from your house, maybe because a neighbor who doesn't like you decided to retaliate after suspecting that your dog left something smelly on his garden, and he called the authorities and mentioned that you are a bit suspicious. So they detain you - just in case. But they do not need to present any evidence, nor argue for it, nor provide you with a lawyer - because there is no trial. Your neighbor may have made spurious claims, but no one needs be bothered to verify them!
[Senator Lindsey] Graham added that it was right that Americans should be subject to the detention law as well as foreigners. "It is not unfair to make an American citizen account for the fact that they decided to help Al Qaeda to kill us all and hold them as long as it takes to find intelligence about what may be coming next," he said. "And when they say, 'I want my lawyer,' you tell them, 'Shut up. You don't get a lawyer.'"
Please slap me in the face to wake me up!

"American [or not] terrorism suspects" - 'Suspects' is the operative word here. Let's make something clear: a suspect of terrorism is not a terrorist. That is what the principle of innocence until guilt is proven stands for. But wait - who qualifies as a "suspect of terrorism" then? The law applies to anyone "who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban or associated forces". Apart from the vagueness of "substantially supporting" forces associated with an entity which exists mostly in our imagination, let's remember that in order to detain you or me indefinitely, all they need is a suspicion. Senator Rand Paul, one of the few decent guys who opposed the law, says:
"There are laws on the books now that characterise who might be a terrorist: someone missing fingers on their hands is a suspect according to the department of justice. Someone who has guns, someone who has ammunition that is weatherproofed, someone who has more than seven days of food in their house can be considered a potential terrorist," Paul said. "If you are suspected because of these activities, do you want the government to have the ability to send you to Guantánamo Bay for indefinite detention?"
Indeed! Can it get any more Kafkaesque than that? You may be thinking that even if the law allows such absurdities, the authorities would never take it to the extreme of asking you to produce 10 fingers on your hands and a half-stocked fridge. But think again; 'never' is a very long time to take for granted. Sooner or later someone in power will see fit to apply this law more and more at their convenience. After all, when you are holding a hammer, everything around you looks increasingly like a nail.

An example of how easy it is to turn into a "terrorist" in the eyes of the authorities came not from the US but from the UK, a country which has run a similar course to its American counterpart in regards to the 'war on terror'. It turns out that London Police included the Occupy London protesters in a list of terrorist groups included in an advisory notice sent to the business community in the City.
police terrorism occupy

Occupy Movement Listed As Domestic Terror Group
The document issued by City of London police, headed "Terrorism/extremism update for the City of London business community", included a detailed account of recent and upcoming Occupy London activities and was sent to "trusted partners" in the area.

The document, dated 2 December, which was passed on to Occupy London's Finsbury square encampment over the weekend by a local business owner, gave an update on foreign terrorist activities including that of Farc in Columbia, Al-Qaeda in Pakistan and the outcome of a trial into the Minsk bombing in Belarus.

Below that, a section headed "Domestic" was dedicated wholly to the activities of the Occupy encampments and singled out anti-capitalists as a cause for concern.
It's interesting that anti-capitalist protests make you a domestic terrorist now, isn't it? You can be classified as "anti-Capitalist" if you simply protest against the rapaciousness of Banks and Corporations.

The Guardian continues:
The legislation's supporters [of the law] in Congress say it simply codifies existing practice, such as the indefinite detention of alleged terrorists at Guantánamo Bay. But the law's critics describe it as a draconian piece of legislation that extends the reach of detention without trial to include US citizens arrested in their own country.
Someone please explain to me, how is it that codifying the totally illegal existing practice of indefinite detention as it happens in Guantanamo makes the law benign? What sort of logic is that? So much for hoping that they would never put it into practice - they have been doing it anyway! But then the critics add that now it is worse because it also applies to American citizens. True, but let me just add that the fact that violating any human being's right to justice, whether American or not, already defeats democratic principles and it was only a matter of time before everyone became a target - not only Arabs, Muslims or foreigners in general. In this respect, most Americans saw that first they came for the Muslims, but they did not speak out because they were not Muslims. Now that they are coming after Americans, there may be no one left to speak for them.

"On US soil" - Again, it was only a matter of time before the nastiest aspects of the war on terror far from the "homeland" in spaces such as Abu Ghraib (remember Abu Ghraib?) came home to roost. It's no longer "over there" at Guantanamo, under the cross-hairs of a drone over Pakistan, or on the streets of Iraq; no longer something to be watched from the safety of your living room; it's now outside your door looking in.

Abu Ghraib
© AP Photo/File
A U.S. serviceman with his dog watches a detainee at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in 2003.
Speaking of Iraq, Sott.net observed in a comment inserted in this article that as president Obama was due to sign the NDAA law, he was also calling an end to the Iraq war. That was his own 'Mission Accomplished' moment (remember Bush dressed up as a pilot on an aircraft carrier off California declaring the Iraq war over?). The last troops are leaving the country in the next few days, we are told. Why would Obama pick this particular date to pull this stunt if not to obscure the legalization of the US as a police state? Most people learn about the state of the world through headlines or teasers only. We don't usually have time for a deeper reading of the news or to look up different sources or points of views, and if we are not paying attention we tend to forget things fast. Thus, the general public will have heard a few days ago that a certain law was being discussed in the Senate which jeopardized the rights of American citizens and that Obama was planning to veto. Next thing they know, Obama is pulling the remaining troops out of Iraq and the passing of said law gets buried and forgotten.

In perspective

When putting the situation in perspective, two things stand out for me. The first is the behavior of the Obama administration, which clearly calculated the best way to get this law passed with minimal damage to the president's image. The very fact that the Obama Administration is shredding the Constitution more egregiously than Bush and the neocons ever did is quite telling. ("It's something so radical that it would have been considered crazy had it been pushed by the Bush administration," said Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch.) It suggests that the intention of turning the US into a full blown police state dictatorship goes higher up the ladder than the White House... Excuse me, I hear you say, but the ladder ends there, in the White House. Well, I beg to differ. Power should not be measured in terms of legalities and formalities, but in the way it is actually exercised. As Robert Fisk recently put it, bankers are the dictators of the west. Their financial power is certainly stronger than the political power of any president or prime minister. Stephen Lendman writes:
Bankers rule the world. A new Swiss Federal Institute of Technology study says so. Written by Stefania Vitali, James Glattfelder and Stefano Battiston, it's titled "The network of global corporate control," saying:

"We find that transnational corporations form a giant bow-tie structure and that a large portion of control flows to a small tightly-knit core of financial institutions. This core can be seen as an economic 'super-entity' that raises new important issues both for researches and policy makers."

The study says 147 powerful companies control an inordinate amount of economic activity - about 40%. Among the top 50, 45 are financial firms. They include Barclays PLC (called most influential), JPMorgan Chase, UBS, and other familiar and less known names.

Twenty-four companies are US-based, followed by eight in Britain, five in France, four in Japan, and Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands with two each. Canada has one.

Moreover, "top ranked" companies "hold a control ten times bigger than what could be expected based on their wealth."

As a result, they have enormous influence over political, financial, and economic activity.
So no, the White House is not at the top of the food chain.

The second thing that I find most interesting is that the NDAA law is passed in the context of an atmosphere of uprising against Corporate Control in many countries all over the world, the US included. The sad conclusion of course, is that the US authorities holding this legal hammer are likely to look for nails in the Occupy movement sooner or later, and then at anyone representing any sort of opposition to the establishment.

Now you see why I am in such a pessimistic mood lately. The US has reached yet another milestone - this one is a point of no return, I would say, after which events can easily escalate into a nightmare more rapidly than any of us ever dreamed possible. As tyranny is formalized out in the open, this is where all remaining illusions about its democratic principles or moral higher ground come to a definite end. Since we are talking about the global military superpower and a country that for good or for ill - mostly for ill - sets the example for the rest of the world, the implications will reach far beyond its borders.

It looks like 2012 will, indeed, be the End of the World; just not the way anyone ever imagined.

Occupy Wall Street aressts
© Mario Tama/Getty Images/AFP
A protester affiliated with Occupy Wall Street link is arrested a few blocks away from the New York Stock Exchange on November 17, 2011 in New York City.