NYU's Independent Student Newspaper

U.S. government manipulates language, violates Constitution

Oceania, the home of protagonist Winston Smith in George Orwell’s dystopian novel, “1984,” was a society characterized by three main components: endless warfare, constant surveillance and the manipulation of language. America, the home of most of you reading this, is a society whose government is working to implement these components.

The National Counterterrorism Center was created in 2004 to “lead our nation’s effort to combat terrorism at home and abroad.” However, the American Civil Liberties Union has asserted that the NCTC’s real purpose is the “massive, secretive data collection and mining of trillions of points of data about most people in the United States.” This violates the Fourth Amendment, which protects citizens from unreasonable search and seizure. Constant surveillance: check.

This data is now being used to create what President Obama’s administration is calling the disposition matrix. This phrase is designed to prevent people from thinking about what it means when they come across it. Merriam Webster offers more than 20 definitions for these two words, and none of those definitions can offer any insight into what this phrase describes: a list of people, including American citizens, that our government is secretly considering to kill. This violates the Fifth Amendment, which guarantees due process to U.S. citizens. Manipulation of language: check.

The disposition matrix is part of a larger effort by the Obama administration to institutionalize the extreme powers they have claimed are constitutional during wartime. An effort is also being made to institutionalize war in general, as there is a consensus among senior White House officials that drone wars and other similar operations will be extended for at least another decade. In the words of one official: “We can’t possibly kill everyone who wants to harm us [but trying is] a necessary part of what we do.” In other words, we are not going to run out of people to kill and the cycle of war will continue indefinitely. Another official compared the killings to swatting flies. The creation of permanent war violates the Constitution itself, which gave the power to declare war only to Congress. Endless warfare: check.

What is most disheartening about this situation is how Americans do not seem to care about it. I found out about the disposition matrix in an article in the Guardian, a British newspaper. The American media rarely covers drone warfare, and most news sources have not mentioned the disposition matrix at all. An American president’s plans to institutionalize extra-judicial killings of whomever he wants, including American citizens, were released to the public, and two weeks later he won re-election.

For years I thought that the general apathy in this country was due to a belief that what had happened abroad would not affect Americans at home. I do not see how it is possible to continue this naivete. And to those who argue that government officials are experts trying to keep us safe, I ask: You don’t trust the government to run health care, but you trust those same officials to run a system that secretly decides to kill people without judicial oversight?

We now live in a society much like Oceania, where government officials feel comfortable lying to our faces. When they are not lying, they speak in gibberish, and we pretend to listen. Both sides benefit from this gibberish: The government can do whatever it wants, and the public is free to live their own lives without having to pretend to be
outraged or consider their own roles in the American Empire.

In previous articles, I have proposed possible solutions for the problems I discuss. For this problem, I have no answers. Hopefully, the American people will wake up, shake off this apathy and once again hold our government accountable for its actions.

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Nov. 19 print edition. Ian Mark is a staff writer. Email him at [email protected]

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NYU's Independent Student Newspaper
U.S. government manipulates language, violates Constitution