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By now, you’d think we’d be entering the end of the 9/11 era. One war over in the Greater Middle East, another hurtling disastrously to its end, and the threat of al-Qaeda so diminished that it should hardly move the needle on the national worry meter. You might think, in fact, that the moment had arrived to turn the American gaze back to first principles: the Constitution and its protections of rights and liberties.
Yet warning signs abound that 2012 will be another year in which, in the name of national security, those rights and liberties are only further Guantanamo-ized and abridged. Most notably, for example, despite the fact that genuinely dangerous enemies continue to exist abroad, there is now a new enemy in our sights: namely, American oppositional types and whistleblowers who are charged as little short of traitors for revealing the workings of our government to journalists and others.
Here and elsewhere, it looks like we can expect the Obama administration to continue to barrel down the path that has already taken us far from the country we used to be. And by next year, if a different president is in the Oval Office, expect him to lead us even further astray. With that in mind, here are five categories in the sphere of national security where 2012 is likely to prove even grimmer than 2011.
1. Ever More Punitive (Ever Less Fair-minded).
Those who imagine the era of overreach in the name of national security coming to an end any time soon would do well to remember that some spectacular national security trials are on the horizon—and that we may be entering a new age of governmental vindictiveness. Among the most newsworthy of those trials: the military commissions at Guantanamo that will bring to the docket Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attack, and his co-conspirators, as well as Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the alleged point person in the 2000 suicide attack on the U.S.S. Cole in the port of Aden. These will likely include capital charges and be prosecuted in a spirit of vengeance.
But that spirit won’t stop with al-Qaeda ringleaders and operatives. A series of cases not involving attacks on or the killing of Americans will also be argued in the name of national security and in a similar spirit of vengeance. To begin with, there is the upcoming court martial of Pfc. Bradley Manning, accused of downloading classified US government documents and leaking them to the website WikiLeaks. And then, of course, there is the potential prosecution of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in federal court—a federal grand jury is now considering his indictment—for his alleged collaboration with Manning.
Both cases have been hailed with a righteous anger that might strike an outsider as akin to frothing at the mouth. Top officials have insisted that the WikiLeaks materials threatened American lives and left “blood” on the hands of both Assange and Manning (though no one has yet pointed to a single individual physically harmed by the release of those documents).