Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Civil Rights Watch 2/3/08

There are two videos you really should see if you've missed them.

The brief video below is Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) explaining the real life ramifications of the surveillance policies the Bush administration and their allies want:

This comes courtesy of Glenn Greenwald, who has more here, and who often writes on these issues.

The second video is pretty disturbing, of a woman being strip-searched after a call to the police for help:

See The Raw Story for more (via Crooks and Liars and The Existentialist Cowboy).

Sadly, this isn't "unbelievable," although it is disturbing. There are good cops out there, but among cops and similarly-empowered people, they have always been plenty of bullies and thugs, too. This is about bullying and an abuse of power to put a woman who challenged a cop over a trivial matter in her place. Her husband relates that his wife said she felt raped without penetration. Rape is its own horrible crime, but the dynamics here are strikingly similar. Rape isn't about sex, it's about power, and here, it's not about due process or any reasonable suspicion, it's about power. The cops violated their own protocols, knowingly, since male cops shouldn't be stripping a woman. That's not to mention leaving her naked in a cell for six hours, denying her medical treatment or a phone call.

Hope Steffey deserved far better treatment, and deserves praise for the courage to get this story out. One account says there's still more video, too. There needs to be a full investigation, but let's be honest, it's not as if the conduct shown on the video is remotely excusable. I have very little doubt that the sheriff is lying through his teeth, and I hope this lawsuit leads to a loss of job, assets and reputation. These are cops, and of course they know better. Hope Steffey was reported as the victim in the call. The treatment she received was abusive and unconscionable.

We've covered these general issues many times before. (Here's the BH categories for FISA, civil rights and human rights, and the VS categories for surveillance , civil rights and human rights.)

Recent history alone provides ample examples of an important truth: surveillance power will always be abused eventually. The power to detain and imprison at will shall always be abused eventually. Unchecked power is always abused eventually. And even supposedly "checked" power can be, and is, abused.

Warrantless surveillance and police misconduct do have different aspects, but they share a common thread. It's a thread found in illegally holding onto surveillance records, eliminating habeas corpus, torturing people, and many other civil and human rights violations. It's a thread also found in retribution against whistleblowers and truth-tellers, and other vicious politics and vengeful management. It's a common thread of authoritarianism, where justice is not pursued according to due process and the rule of law, and where what's right and wrong is not decided by more objective standards of morality, but by who's in power. Torture is always wrong, even if Bush says differently. It's not wrong when perpetrated by the "bad guys" and right when perpetrated by the "good guys." In fact, torturing someone pretty much proves you're no longer one of the "good guys." The same is true of any misconduct or abuse or power.

I don't want to distract from FISA issues or the horrible treatment of Hope Steffey, which both deserve continued attention, but it's also important to see how they fit into the larger picture. They stem from the same general mentality, one that is both extremely dangerous and far too prevalent. People in power often get indignant that their virtue and judgment are questioned, regardless of the mountain of evidence proving its necessity (not to mention common sense). "Trust us," is never a sufficient explanation, and bullying bluster alone is reason not to trust someone in power. People in power must always be challenged. Bullies must always be challenged. The burden of proof lies with the people in the first group to show that they're not also part of the second group, not with the public, when these question arise. The founding fathers certainly felt the same way, as evident in our Constitution, most of all in the Bill of Rights. There's a good reason Thomas Jefferson said, "If I had to choose between government without newspapers, and newspapers without government, I wouldn't hesitate to choose the latter."

(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)

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