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Vol. 75/No. 19      May 16, 2011

White House ‘justice’
and workers rights
(lead article / editorial)

Three events over five days—each presented by top U.S. government officials as having to do with “foreign” military and intelligence operations—actually register and reinforce the erosion of the political rights of workers in the United States.

The first is the assassination of an unarmed Osama bin Laden, shot in the head May 2 in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, by U.S. Navy Seals acting as judge, jury, and executioner.

Fewer than 48 hours earlier, NATO forces in the skies over Tripoli bombed the compound of Libyan head of state Moammar Gadhafi, killing his son and three grandchildren.

And on April 28 President Barack Obama announced a reorganization of the top leadership of the Defense Department and CIA.

Initial attempts by Obama’s aides to prettify the Abbottabad operation unraveled quickly. On May 2 White House “counterterrorism” adviser John Brennan told reporters bin Laden had been armed and “engaged in a firefight” when he was shot, that he used his wife as a shield, and that she had been killed. The next day White House press secretary Jay Carney read, word for word, a Department of Defense statement retracting some of the lies. Bin Laden “was not armed,” the statement said, and did not hide behind his wife (who was not in fact killed) or any other woman.

It was in reference to this brazen White House hit that the commander in chief of the U.S. armed forces and former University of Chicago law professor intoned during a late-night, televised speech: “Justice has been done.”

The operation had been planned for more than eight months after the al-Qaeda leader’s whereabouts were discovered. Obama said that shortly after taking office in 2009, “I directed Leon Panetta, the director of the CIA, to make the killing or capture of bin Laden the top priority of our war against al Qaeda.” There was clearly no intention of “capture.”

The Wall Street Journal hailed the “triumph of intelligence, interrogation and special operations that are by necessity three of the main weapons in what the U.S. military has called this ‘long war.’” The Journal went on to note, “The most striking fact of Mr. Obama’s prosecution of the war on terror is how much it resembles Mr. Bush’s, to the consternation of America’s anti-antiterror left.”

National Review columnist Victor Hanson gloated that, “A Nobel peace laureate is now the Left’s totem and he can send quite deadly Americans on quite deadly missions as he sees fit—and without worry about a New York Times op-ed barrage or an ACLU lawsuit. That gives the U.S. newfound advantages, a veritable blank check, from keeping Guantánamo open indefinitely to using a Cheney ‘assassination’ team and valuable water-boarded intelligence wherever it wishes to.”

Washington’s course was also registered by Obama’s April 28 nomination of Panetta as secretary of defense and of Gen. David Petraeus, currently the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, as head of the CIA. Among other things, the appointments reflect the degree to which operations by the U.S. military and CIA have become more and more integrated in U.S. wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere (see accompanying article).

But as all modern history teaches, increased military and intelligence operations by imperialist governments abroad are an extension of the propertied rulers’ efforts to bring to heel working people and our organizations in the class struggle at home.

The germ of the “national security” state Obama is today using and strengthening was planted during the administration of another Democratic president, Franklin Roosevelt, more than 70 years ago. In 1939 Roosevelt turned the FBI loose to investigate “subversive activities,” by which he meant union-organizing drives and opposition in the labor movement to Washington’s impending entry into World War II. In 1940 the FBI sent thousands of informers and agents provocateurs into factories, mines, and mills to spy on union, Black rights, and other political activities.

In 1941 the Smith “Gag” Act became law, outlawing “criminal seditious activities,” which included speech. The first to be indicted were leaders of the Teamsters union in Minneapolis who were also members and leaders of the Socialist Workers Party. The class-struggle-minded Teamsters organized in the working class to oppose being dragged into the interimperialist slaughter. They pursued a course aimed at transforming the unions into a fighting social and political movement independent of the bosses’ parties, the Democrats and Republicans.

In the 1950s, with a working-class-based movement developing to oppose Jim Crow segregation in the South, the FBI put its “Counterintelligence Program” into action to disrupt the work of Black organizations, the Communist Party, SWP, and others, through provocateurs, break-ins, wiretaps, and other unconstitutional activities.

The massive spying and harassment by the secret police—not just the “domestic” FBI, but also by the CIA and military intelligence agencies—were brought to light through the landmark lawsuit filed by the SWP against government spying. Among those the socialists filed suit against, in addition to the FBI and top White House officials, were the secretaries of defense and of the army and the directors of the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency. (Those interested in finding out more about this case and political campaign can pick up FBI on Trial: The Victory in the Socialist Workers Party Suit against Government Spying, published by Pathfinder Press, as well as the article “Washington’s Fifty-Year Domestic Contra Operation” in issue no. 6 of the Marxist magazine New International.)

The ability of the U.S. imperialist rulers to carry out such operations against opponents of their policies at home was pushed back by the conquests of the powerful Black rights movement, massive anti-Vietnam War mobilizations, and related struggles of the 1960s and early 1970s. But the Democrats and Republicans have been trying to recuperate ever since, chipping away at the Bill of Rights where they’ve found the chance.

The Democratic administration of William Clinton made inroads in 1996 with its Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, and its Economic Espionage Act, which restored some of the instruments the rulers need to curb workers’ political activity.

In 2001, when al-Qaeda bombed the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon—a reactionary, anti-working-class deed that handed the imperialists a pretext they grabbed—President George W. Bush and the bipartisan Congress quickly pushed through the USA Patriot Act, which built on Clinton’s laws and gave much wider latitude to federal and other political police to conduct spying and disruption against individuals and organizations, carry out arbitrary searches and seizures, and jail immigrants indefinitely with no charges. A year later the U.S. Army’s Northern Command was established, the first time since the Civil War that dealing with “civil disorder” within U.S. borders was authorized as a military matter for Washington’s troops rather than a police matter for city, state, and federal police agencies.

Since then the Democrats and Republicans have steadily infringed on more rights, from monitoring email and Internet use, to expanding wiretapping, to widening use of informers against organizations, to curbing the rights defendants have in the courtroom.

At every step, these assaults have been rationalized as necessary to the fight against “terrorism.”

The record of the Obama White House is stunning in this regard. Just in the little more than two years since his inauguration, the Democratic administration has stood at the helm during the stripping away of more Miranda and habeas corpus protections of the accused and convicted; FBI raids against antiwar activists; stepped-up militarization of airports; expansion of “fusion centers,” where local cops collaborate with the FBI to go after “suspicious” persons; arbitrary and indefinite detentions; the deportations of thousands of immigrant workers—and now, the bin Laden assassination.

Since early this year, workers and farmers in the United States have begun to react against the increasingly devastating consequences of the world capitalist crisis, which has deepened sharply since 2007. Our unions are weaker than at any time since the beginning of the last ruinous economic and social crisis of the profit system at the opening of the 1930s. But the rulers know that militant and organized class battles are coming, and they are acting now to reduce our political space to organize and act to advance the interests of working people here and around the world.

That’s why working people, above all, must expose and reject the duplicity and hypocrisy when the chief executive officer of the U.S. imperialist government tries to persuade the world that “Justice has been done.”
Related articles:
New U.S. ‘defense’ team reflects CIA-military ties  
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