In a ruling this week, the US apex court decided that anyone can be strip-sear-ched upon arrest for any offence any time. This joins two recent horror show laws: the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which lets anyone be arrested forever at any time, and HR 347, which gives you a 10-year sentence for protesting anywhere near someone with secret service protection. These criminalisations of being human follow the mini-uprising of the Occupy movement.
Our surveillance State has shown determination to intrude on citizens sexually. There’s the sexual abuse of prisoners at Bagram. And there’s the policy set up after the story of the ‘underwear bomber’ to grope US travellers genitally or else force them to go through a machine with images so vivid that it has been called the ‘pornoscanner’.
The political use of forced nudity by anti-democratic regimes is long established. Forcing people to undress is the first step in breaking down their sense of individuality and dignity and reinforcing their powerlessness. Enslaved women were sold naked on the blocks in the American south, and adolescent male slaves served young white ladies at table in the south, while they themselves were naked. Jewish prisoners herded into camps were stripped of clothing and photographed naked.
One of the most terrifying moments for me when I visited Guantanamo prison was seeing the way the architecture of the building positioned glass-fronted shower cubicles facing intentionally right into the central atrium — where young female guards stood watch over the forced nakedness of Muslim prisoners. Laws and rulings such as this are clearly designed to bring the conditions of Guantanamo, and abusive detention, home. I have watched male police standing side by side salaciously observing women as they have been “patted down” in airports.
These recent laws criminalising protest, and giving local police powers to terrify and traumatise people who have not gone through due process or trial, are being set up to work in concert with a see-all-all-the-time surveillance State.
Why is this happening? I used to think the push was just led by those who profited from endless war and surveillance — but now I see the struggle as larger. As one internet advocate said to me: “There is a race against time: they realise the internet is a tool of empowerment that will work against their interests, and they need to race to turn it into a tool of control.”
As Chris Hedges wrote in his riveting account of the NDAA: “There are now 1,271 government agencies and 1,931 private companies that work on programs related to counter-terrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States, the Washington Post reported in a 2010 series by Dana Priest and William M Arken. There are 854,000 people with top-secret security clearances, the reporters wrote, and in Washington, DC, and the surrounding area 33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work are under construction or have been built since September 2011.”
This enormous new sector of the economy has a multi-billion-dollar vested interest in setting up a system to surveil, physically intimidate and prey upon the rest of American society. Now they can do so by threatening to demean you sexually — a potent tool in the hands of any bully.