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So much of what the U.S. Government has done over the last decade has been devoted to creating and strengthening this climate of fear. Attacking Iraq under the terrorizing banner of “shock and awe”; disappearing people to secret prisons; abducting them and shipping them to what Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter (when advocating this) euphemistically called “our less squeamish allies”; throwing them in cages for years without charges, dressed in orange jumpsuits and shackles; creating a worldwide torture regime; spying on Americans without warrants and asserting the power to arrest them on U.S. soil without charges: all of this had one overarching objective. It was designed to create a climate of repression and intimidation by signaling to the world — and its own citizens — that the U.S. was unconstrained by law, by conventions, by morality, or by anything else: the government would do whatever it wanted to anyone it wanted, and those thinking about opposing the U.S. in any way, through means legitimate or illegitimate, should (and would) thus think twice, at least.
That a large percentage of those brutalized by this system turned out to be innocent — knowingly innocent — is a feature, not a bug: that one can end up being subjected to these lawless horrors despite doing nothing wrong only intensifies the fear and makes it more effective. The power being asserted is not merely unlimited and tyrannical, but arbitrary. And now, the Obama administration’s citizen-aimed, due-process-free assassination program, its orgies of drone attacks, its defense of radically broad interpretations of “material support” criminal statutes, and its disturbing targeting of American anti-war activists with subpoenas and armed police raids are all part of the same tactic. Those contemplating meaningful opposition to American action are meant to be frightened.