What‘s in store for democracy in the land of the free and the home of the brave? Some people think that recent government actions don’t augur well for American freedom.
On December 1, the Senate passed the $662 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) by a vote of 93-7. Buried in the 600-page document is an amendment that mandates the military to go after people it suspects are supporters of Al Qaeda, the Taliban or undefined “associated forces” and lock them up indefinitely without charge or trial – including U.S. citizens on American soil. The bill – S. 1867 – was incorporated into the House version that passed last spring – H.R. 1540 – and was sent back to Congress for reconciliation in a conference committee.
Critics of the NDAA’s military detention provision say the detention provision of the bill violates the Constitution and points ominously to further repression. Soon after the Senate approved the NDAA, video and print ads by the U.S. Army seeking “internment/resettlement specialists” – also known as concentration camp guards – began to circulate on the Internet. Then came the news that federal and state agencies are using unmanned drones without authorization or public disclosure to hunt down alleged wrongdoers.
On December 12, U.S. Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) announced he has the support of 10 other representatives in his fight against the military detention provisions of the NDAA. Amash and the representatives wrote a letter to their fellow congressional representatives asking them to strip the detention provision from the bill in conference. “Our Constitution does not permit the federal government to detain American citizens indefinitely without charge or trial,” they wrote.
It’s hard to imagine tanks in the streets of American cities, but not impossible if one compares these recent government actions with examples from history. For example, connect the dots between the passage of the NDAA, the army’s want ads for interment specialists, the use of drones for surveillance and the “Occupy Wall Street” protest movement that has spread from the Arab Awakenings in Tunisia and Egypt to dozens of U.S. cities and some surprising parallels show up with the imposition of martial law in Poland that occurred 30 years ago today.
On December 13, 1981, a 19-year-old student from Paris stepped off a train onto a platform in Warsaw, Poland, in the early morning. Although Poland was his homeland, he had been involuntarily exiled from it for nearly 15 years and he was returning for the first time to visit his father’s family.
“As my father drove me through the streets of Warsaw deserted due to the imposed curfew, I recall seeing well armed and very alert looking soldiers about my age then, on foot patrols, army personnel carriers and tanks as they maneuvered around the core of the capital,” Michael Werbowski writes on Global Politician. “Telephone lines within and outside the country were cut off, borders closed, schools and theaters shut down and public gatherings were banned. I was basically stuck and stranded in Warsaw, my birthplace. . . The Military Council of National Salvation, as it called itself in an Orwellian sense, had taken over the country in this military putsch Polish style.”
Martial law in Poland was declared by then Prime Minister Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski and a junta of 20 other high ranking military officers who made up the oddly named council. The “putsch” came after a period of civil turmoil following the formation 18 months earlier of the free and independent Solidarity trade union. The activists and citizens who supported Solidarity’s movement toward democracy expected the communist government to respond, but not the way it did, according to Web of Stories.
Two years earlier, the Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan and many Poles thought a similar invasion of Poland was possible. Others, notably the CIA, thought Poland’s communist rulers would use the martial law to deter a Soviet invasion, but that’s not what happened. “In fact, what the communist leaders in both Warsaw and Moscow were intent on doing was to reassert state control over society. To this end, leaders of the free and independent trade union Solidarity were arrested and isolated, as were around 5,000 Solidarity supporters. The crackdown was severe and units of riot police were mobilized to deal forcefully with demonstrators in the ensuing protests,” the article says. Solidarity leader Lech Walesa was arrested and imprisoned for almost a year, and was under constant watch and harassment by secret police for the next seven years, according to Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty. Ordinary citizens woke up on the morning of December 13th not only to find troops and tanks patrolling their streets, but only one TV channel and one radio station broadcasting Jaruzelski’s speech declaring martial law, Web of Stories says.
Poland’s martial law came after months of escalating social and economic unrest. The “Occupy” protests have come after the worst economic downturn in the U.S. since the Great Depression of the 1930s. While the Polish people struggled to free themselves from the anti-democratic oppression of the communist government’s state-controlled economy that kept hardworking people from advancing economically, the Occupy movement is protesting the anti-democratic greed and corruption of the capitalist government’s corporation-controlled economy. “Occupy Wall Street is . . . fighting back against the corrosive power of major banks and multinational corporations over the democratic process, and the role of Wall Street in creating an economic collapse that has caused the greatest recession in generations,” according to Occupy Wall Street.
Both the Solidarity and Occupy Wall Street movements hoped to pressure the governments to introduce economic reforms, promote economic equality and democracy. The leaders of the Solidarity movement and a reported 5,000 of their supporters were arrested when martial law was imposed on Poland. While the Occupy movement has no single leader, Occupy Arrests has documented the arrests of at least 5,425 protesters in 94 U.S. cities as of December 12, 2011.
The communist Soviet regime had a massive system of prisons and labor internment camps that an estimated 18 prisoners passed through. A Google search for “U.S. internment camps” or “U.S. prison camps” turns up dozens of articles and even video asserting the existence of more than 600 internment camps awaiting prisoners while dozens of other articles say the internment camps are a hoax and the product of conspiracy theorists.
So, are conditions ripe for law in the U.S. Col. Larry Wilkerson (U.S. Army, Ret.) and chief of staff to former Secretary of Defense Colin Powell, says the military detention provisions of the National Defense Authorization Bill bring the country closer to military domination. “I think it’s another step on the road to tyranny,” Wilkerson told The Real News. Furthermore, Wilkerson said, the country has been on the path to despotism for some time now. “I think the Patriot Act was a huge giant step on the road to tyranny. I just think it’s completely the wrong direction,” he said. “We’re creating tyranny in this country as sure as if we went over to the Jefferson Memorial where he says, ‘I’ve sworn eternal hostility to all forms of tyranny over the mind of man,’ and tore it down.”