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'Neither liberty nor safety': Has American freedom’s race been run at Boston Marathon?

'Neither liberty nor safety': Has American freedom’s race been run at Boston Marathon?
The fallout from the terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon on Monday, which killed three and injured 152, will likely prompt a new assault on civil liberties in the supposed defense of freedom.

The irony that lurks behind the attack on the Boston Marathon is a cruel one: no other sport better represents the spirit of individual freedom than that of running: The competitor is locked into a contest against himself and time, while the distant finish line exists as an impartial arbiter of victory. The clock does not lie.

The moment of passing the 26-mile threshold is meant to be a jubilant celebration of man succeeding in pushing himself beyond the limits of human endurance. But at this year’s finish line, where flags from around the world decorated the packed grandstand, the only real winners are those who may be tempted to use the tragedy to launch yet another assault on US civil liberties.

After all, it has happened before. Following the attacks of 9/11, which caused the death of some 3,000 people from around the world, Congress rammed through the Patriot Act under the pretext that it was protecting the American people from further acts of violence. In hindsight, that seems to have been a self-serving bit of misinformation. Just as America’s formidable security apparatus failed to intercept four lumbering commercial jets over the most desirable real estate in the free world, legislators failed to protect the American people from administrative acts of violence.

American lawmakers chose to ignore the sound advice of Benjamin Franklin, who warned that “those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Ambulances line the street after explosions reportedly interrupted the running of the 117th Boston Marathon in Boston, Massachusetts April 15, 2013 (Reuters / Dominick Reuter)

Shockingly, the majority of Congress members never bothered to even read the Patriot Act, which was passed at a time when anthrax-filled envelopes were circulating on Capitol Hill (curiously sent to two Democratic Senators opposed to the draconian legislation, Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy) and the entire country was in a mental code-red lockdown. As bumper-sticker patriotism gripped the national psyche, people were sealing their homes with plastic wrap in anticipation of the next Al-Qaeda strike, which we were led to believe was imminent.

As the nation blinked from shock and awe, the real mischief was happening in Congress.

Today, law enforcement and intelligence agencies are empowered to monitor private communications and access personal information, such as emails, voicemails and telephone conversations. Even a person’s library book withdrawals are susceptible to a federal shakedown.

Meanwhile, the Patriot Act amended the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to allow the FBI to use National Security Letters to replace court-approved warrants or subpoenas. In 2010, 24,287 NSLs were issued, up 64 per cent from the previous year. At the same time, everybody from toddlers to grandmothers was being harassed at the border by the TSA and their diabolical naked body scanners.

Despite this super-invasive matrix of surveillance aimed at the American people, the perpetrator or perpetrators of the Boston attacks managed to slip through the web and detonate two bombs at the marathon’s finish line.

Although it is no small security challenge to guarantee security along the entire 26-mile route, why was security so lax at the point where the most people would be gathered (it has been confirmed that families of the Sandy Hook school shooting, which claimed the lives of 26 people, 20 of them children, were near the finish line)? After all, it is next-to-impossible to enter an American airport or even a baseball game without passing through a phalanx of security layers that includes metal detectors and bomb-sniffing canines.

Now, the daunting question for the American people is: should we enact even greater security procedures following this latest tragedy to defend freedom and liberty? The question is beset with pitfalls, because as Franklin understood there comes a point when excessive measures to ensure security make the idea of freedom and liberty redundant.

The scene of multiple explosions near the end of the Boston Marathon finish line in Boston, Massachusetts April 15, 2013 (Reuters / Scott Eisen)

After all, even if the garden of liberty could grow behind a barbed wire enclosure, who would want to live in such a forbidding place?

What next?

So now comes a pivotal point in the debate as to what transpires next in the United States, where cynicism and even paranoia of government is at a record high. Indeed, as countless commentators on social media networks seem increasingly inclined to believe, any effort on the part of government to enhance security is actually a deliberate attempt to further diminish the rights of Americans for nefarious purposes.

For example, as if the black helicopter crowd needed more encouragement, the Department of Homeland Security - an all-encompassing 'superagency' made up of 22 federal departments, that was created post-9/11 - has recently announced plans to buy 1.6 billion rounds of ammunition over the next five years. You don't need to subscribe to conspiracy theories to ask what this domestic agency will do with so much guns and ammo.

Meanwhile, paramilitary maneuvers in the skies above America’s biggest cities have become a first-of-its-kind event. Although the authorities explain these activities as initiatives to prepare for the defense of the homeland, many people are simply not buying it.

Although the drafters of the Patriot Act may have had the best intentions at heart, the extreme steps they have prescribed for protecting the homeland - which in too many cases imposes harsh measures on ordinary citizens - seems to have backfired. Today, an entire cottage industry of anti-government dissenters has popped up like weeds on the internet, where no idea is considered too outrageous to entertain.

Meanwhile, other commentators point to extremist organizations, specifically white nationalist groups, as possible home-grown perpetrators of Monday’s terrorist attack.

“Keep in mind…there have been a number of disturbing events in the US in the recent weeks. A number of prosecutors, that is to say those who try to send accused criminals to jail, have been assassinated in the state of Texas, the head of the prisons in Colorado was assassinated with the suspects being affiliated to the so-called Aryan brotherhood in Texas,” author and historian Gerald Horne told RT. “So there are number of suspect to investigate. This is going to be difficult to protect oneself from the so-called ‘lone wolf’ attacks.”

Police are seen on the roof of a building overlooking Boylston Street where explosions went off at the 117th Boston Marathon in Boston, Massachusetts April 15, 2013 (Reuters / Jessica Rinaldi)

Horne added that the US has misplaced its security priorities, which may have led to the authorities being unprepared for the attack in Boston.

“When it comes to this kind of thing, you may know that the US Treasury Department has more officials and bureaucrats investigating those seeking to travel to Cuba than those involved in so-called terrorism,” he emphasized.

That’s obviously a waste of resources, Horne concluded.

Now, following the latest tragedy to befall the country, the United States finds itself in the delicate situation of needing to batten down the hatches against terrorism - whether the source is homegrown white supremacists, Islamic fundamentalists, or other - at a time when to do so will only aggravate even more questions.

One wonders how the vicious cycle will end.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.