RABBLE, RABBLE: For government, trust is earned, not assumed

Mike Bucaria

Every movie about Nazi Germany includes two things. First, there is either a book burning or a casual statement likening a book burning to a cocktail party. Second, the clichéd, “Show me your papers!” (which is exclusively said as an exclamation) is often repeated in the same scene.

These two things have not remained rare until recently when our government seemed to be taking pages from these screenplays. Our government is not an oppressive regime, but every once in a while something occurs that leaves the inquisitive mind thinking, “Did that really happen?”

CNN reported that such a thing really did happen when, on Sept. 20, 2010,the Pentagon burned almost 10,000 first print copies of Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer’s memoir, “Operation Dark Heart.” The Department of Defense purchased these copies of the memoir and then destroyed them in order to prevent issues of national security from being released.

The memoir details Schaffer’s time in Afghanistan as an army reservist. After his tour he sought to write this book and followed all appropriate channels of security clearance through the Army Reserves. This was not sufficient, and he should have sought clearance from the Army itself and the Department of Defense. At least the Department of Defense may feel this way, seeing as it burned the books.

The Guardian reported earlier in September (when negotiations for purchasing the book were still underway) on the sensitive information presented in the book. Shaffer details his involvement in a black ops unit, which included “striking at the core of the Taliban inside Pakistan.”

This group of self-named Jedi Knights operated beyond the normal regulations placed on other forces. Not only does Shaffer allege that the army spoiled chances of success early in the war, he also alleges that his unit’s intelligence identified Mohammed Atta as a threat before he led the 9/11 attacks.

On Saturday, Schaffer told CNN, “The whole premise smacks of retaliation. Someone buying 10,000 books to suppress a story in this digital age is ludicrous.” Shaffer makes a good point. This seems like an antiquated measure that is more punitive than anything else. Shaffer and his publishing company most certainly have both digital and hard copies of this manuscript, so burning these books does not even scratch the surface if the government intended to prevent the release of this information.

Unfortunately, this behavior by the government is not as isolated as it seems. The Arizona legislature passed a law allowing authorities to request to see proof of citizenship on a whim. Previously, police were allowed to investigate citizenship status while investigating other alleged crimes, but the new law eliminates that qualifier.

The Huffington Post reported this September that Arizona state representatives Russell Pearce and John Kavanagh, drafters of the immigration bill, are setting their sights for a national agenda – possibly reinterpreting or amending the 14th Amendment. The reinterpretation they aim for would involve including the legal status of a child’s parents on the birth certificate or readdressing birthright citizenship as a whole. The State Department has already filed numerous lawsuits against the state.

News outlets have painted these issues with their own bias. For instance, CNN addresses that Arizona exceeds its rights as a state in discussing citizenship, and Fox News focuses on the use of tax-payers’ dollars for the purchase of Shaffer’s memoir.

However, these are not only issues of economics or human rights, rather these are issues of trust.

Whether your politics include a strict or a loose interpretation of the constitution, the only interpretations that matter belong to the nine men and women on the Supreme Court. Since people do not have direct input in the day-to-day actions of the government, we need to trust our government to represent our interests, as well as protect our rights. However these events, even if they are resolved, disturb this trust.

Burning books to hide information – national security may necessitate this, but then why was Shaffer initially granted permission only to be met with this drastic measure later?

And changing the 14th Amendment to exclude the children of illegal immigrants – illegal immigration is an issue, but why are we not addressing the cause of their emigration and the desperate circumstances they are escaping?

This is not an accusation of a lack of accountability or transparency but rather an eye-opener. The obvious disclaimer is that our government still deserves our trust. Hospitals are open, police are patrolling and our freedoms are being protected.

However, that does not mean turn a blind eye to these lapses in justice. Should we take to the streets burning the flag? Absolutely not. But we must increase our scrutiny of national leaders, Republican or Democrat, and be ready to blow our whistles should this happen again.

Mike Bucaria is a freshman undeclared major from Rockville Centre, N.Y. He can be reached at [email protected].