But that’s just the most recent evidence that the death of Osama not only did not produce a civil-liberties “dividend” but, if anything, Americans have become even more desensitized to the systematic reduction of liberty in the name of national security.
The Patriot Act, which legalized several intrusions into privacy, was rushed into law in 2001 while the remains of the World Trade Center still smoldered and the shape and extent of al Qaeda was undetermined. But even after bin Laden was dead — and al Qaeda declared on the run — the Patriot Act was extended for four years without significant changes.
Then last fall, the president ordered the killing of a U.S. citizen, Anwar al Awlaki, in Yemen without presenting any evidence to a court to justify the execution. Attorney General Eric Holder later asserted that this was somehow constitutional because the guarantee of “due process” doesn’t necessarily mean a “judicial process.” And people who would have gone nuts to hear Bush’s Attorney General John Ashcroft say something so breathtakingly nonsensical simply shrugged.
In January, President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act, which gives the president the power to indefinitely detain, without charge or trial, an American citizen who is suspected of “association” with terrorists.
In addition, the administration has found a way to utilize the 1917 Espionage Act passed during World War I to intimidate “whistleblowers” with information that might prove embarrassing to the administration. In the 72 years before Obama took office, the act was invoked just three times. Since then, six people have been charged under the act, including Thomas Drake, a former employee of the National Security Agency, who faced 35 years in jail for telling a reporter that his agency was about to waste millions of dollars on a software program when a cheaper one was available.
Even though Osama bin Laden sleeps with the fishes, his legacy of fear and panic continues to haunt us. n