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Sudhan @16:00 CET

This Abu Ghraib detainee was reportedly threatened with electrocution if he fell.
This Abu Ghraib detainee was reportedly threatened with electrocution if he fell.

By Patrick Leahy, Time, Thursday, Feb. 19, 2009

More than 30 years ago, a special Senate investigation peered into abuses that included spying on the American people by their own government.

The findings by Senator Frank Church’s committee, drawn from testimony spanning 800 witnesses and thousands of pages of government documents, revealed how powerful government surveillance tools were misused against the American people. For instance, the FBI’s COINTELPRO operation spent more than two decades searching in vain for communist influence in the NAACP and infiltrated domestic groups that, for example, advocated for women’s rights. The Church committee’s work led to creation of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and later to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act–reforms that largely held until the Bush years. (See George W. Bush’s biggest economic mistakes.)

The parallels with today are clear, and so are the lessons. Then, as in recent years, some were willing, in the name of security, to trade away the people’s rights as if they were written in sand, not stone. For much of this decade, we have read about and witnessed such abuses as the scandal at Abu Ghraib, the disclosure of torture memos and the revelations about the warrantless surveillance of Americans.

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