Despotism Watch

I’d sort of forgotten about this story:

According to the lawsuit filed at U.S. District Court in Denver, Howards and his son walked to about two-to-three feet from where Cheney was standing, and said to the vice president, “I think your policies in Iraq are reprehensible,” or words to that effect, then walked on.

Ten minutes later, according to Howards’ lawsuit, he and his son were walking back through the same area, when they were approached by Secret Service agent Virgil D. “Gus” Reichle Jr., who asked Howards if he had “assaulted” the vice president. Howards denied doing so, but was nonetheless placed in handcuffs and taken to the Eagle County Jail.

Now the good news is that the Eagle County District Attorney’s office dropped all charges, notwithstanding the Secret Service’s request that Howards be issued a summons for harrassment. But as Andrew Sullivan points out, you have to look at this sort of thing in the context of our novel torture and detention policies. They could have had Howard detained indefinitely without trial. While in detention, Howard could have been subjected to “coercive interrogation” designed at producing a confession. At a quasi-judicial proceeding, the coerced interrogation could have been used as evidence against him and kept secret from his legal team. You get the picture.

Now do I think it’s likely that the next person who gets in Cheney’s face will be detained, tortured, and convicted on serious terrorism charges? No, I don’t. But you don’t need to use these powers in an abusive way on a regular basis simply in order to scare people into the belief that getting in the VP’s face isn’t worth the risk. And the same powers that can be used to intimidate a random citizen can be used against protest-organizers, hostile journalists, etc.