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Who’s Watching the Watchers?

Good morning from Boston! Who says we don't have a sense of humor in these parts? The Boston media were still pondering Governor Mitt Romney's decision to allow the State Police to arrest illegal immigrants they find during the course of their duties. But as many of you noted here, the day after reporting this, the press discovered that Mitt used illegals to do his lawns. Why are these guys so predictable? But on to more serious stuff.

Along with numerous other political blogs, Jane and Christy have often analyzed the Administration's massive and persistent violations of the Fourth Amendment protections against domestic warrantless surveillance, actions that go far beyond what Congressional statutes and the Supreme Court have ever sanctioned. The most recent revelations show that the Department of Homeland Security, working with the airline industury and others, has been collecting massive amounts of information about us, presumably to profile us "better," whenever we travel — or do anything else.

If it's becoming true that "we know everything about you," one has to wonder how they intend to use all this personal data, and against whom? And whom do we trust to make sure this is all done for the "right reasons," and by and for the "right people"? Our National Intelligence Director, Mr. Negroponte, assures us new guidelines will solve this problem. But these guys think illegally spying on Americans is just fine, and the whole point of the guidelines is to create an "information sharing environment." So who's watching them?

We have also followed with horror the reports of the Administration's even more troubling practices of detaining persons that the President designates as "unlawful detainees" (including American citizens) holding them in secret (or in secret prisons in other countries to which they have been illegally "rendered"), denying them the right to counsel, and subjecting them to inhumane and/or humiliating treatment and torture. Then, to ensure that the perpetrators can never be held accountable for what are undoubtedly serious crimes — including war crimes — the Administration has done everything it could to deny them any access to US courts to challenge the legality of their detention and treatment.

I don't think it is possible to repeat often enough that these practices have occurred, are continining today, and will continue to occur as long as no one forces the Bush Administration to stop. The shameless pre-election passage of the Military Commissions Act not only ensures that these unlawful and outrageous practices of the US government will continue but also that those responsible for ordering and authorizing these crimes, as well as those who perpetrate them, will function without any serious accountability.

That brings me to something Glenn Greenwald mentioned in this post, which I recommend you read in full. Personal information about his airline travel was revealed under conditions that suggested the information might well have come from the US Department of Home Security, which keeps track of travel information on US persons. Glenn describes this July incident as "an ultimately inconsequential but nonetheless quite illustrative personal experience," but what are we to think of this?

Glenn's point is the one we often make here: when government gathers personal intelligence on people, even for legitimate reasons, that information may wind up being used for illegitimate reasons. That's why the Constitution requires that government obtain warrants for surveillance and why Congressional oversight is so important, but this Administration just doesn't see the need.

I know many of us read Glenn every day. We know what he's writing and how important it is. He is performing some of the most important investigative reporting/blogging in the country, focusing on the many unlawful practices of the Bush regime and on the statements and writings of those who continue to support and condone those practices. His is not abstract reporting; it's a serious, deliberate, arguably dangerous and thus courageous effort to expose the increasingly lawless behavior of a radical regime.

Until now, we understood in the abstract that you or I could, in theory, become an unlawful detainee or somehow become regarded as a potential security threat and then subjected to any or all of this regime's unlawful practices. But I suspect most of us assumed that the odds of this actually happening to one of us were so small as to be essentially irrelevant. We didn't seriously believe it could happen to us.

But Glenn's "inconsequential" experience and the work he's doing, and the fact that this Administration has so little regard for the rule of law and the Bill of Rights all suggest those assumptions may not be as comfortable as we'd like. And think about what we do here. In one way or another, aren't we all Glenn Greenwalds?

I'd like to believe that the next Congress will perform serious oversight of the nation's intelligence gathering efforts and the MCA. I'd like to believe that the Chairs of the various oversight committees understand how important this is. But I wish most that the key chair of the Committee overseeing Homeland Security and its role in the "war on terror" wasn't someone who voted for anything as shameful as the Military Commissions Act.

Update: The Gates nomination hearing is live on CNN, MSNBC and CSPN-2. Live-blogging here is encouraged.

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John has been writing for Firedoglake since 2006 or so, on whatever interests him. He has a law degree, worked as legal counsel and energy policy adviser for a state energy agency for 20 years and then as a consultant on electricity systems and markets. He's now retired, living in Massachusetts.

You can follow John on twitter: @JohnChandley