Seizing Power reveals how America’s preoccupation with terrorism, warfare and “homeland security” is transforming the nation into an authoritarian system that considers the rights of the individual to be dispensable in favor of the security and power of the state.
It shows how vested interests in the military-security establishment have dramatically expanded their influence and control of foreign and domestic policy, and how they have consumed ever-expanding amounts of financial resources. The film examines the unprecedented erosion of civil liberties and constitutional rights since 9/11, and questions whether citizens will take action to reclaim and protect them. It investigates illegal surveillance, detention, torture and assassination committed and authorized by government officials, and considers the case for war crimes prosecutions.
Seizing Power explores the little-known story of how the American security state has evolved, and warns us what lies ahead if the country continues on its present course.
How did it happen that the country most identified for more than two centuries as the protector of justice, unalienable rights and individual freedom is being transformed into an increasingly undemocratic, deceptive and aggressive nation? What are the forces, and who are the people behind this movement? Seizing Power looks at how we got to this point, and warns us what lies ahead if the government continues on the course its is taking.
A Nation Transformed. In the years following the attacks of September 11, 2001, the image of the United States as a bastion of freedom for the rights of the individual has been altered dramatically and, some fear, permanently. The country is now effectively in a state of endless warfare, despite claims to the contrary. Long-standing principles of human rights and civil liberties enshrined in the U.S. Constitution are routinely ignored and abused. Much of what the government does is conducted in secret, hidden from public view. The Patriot Act allows federal agents to demand access to information and records from anyone without warrants or probable cause, and allows them to secretly break into homes and offices to obtain information. Warrantless government spying on Americans’ phone and Internet communications is now widespread, affecting every citizen including journalists and Congress itself. It is now considered acceptable and sometimes necessary to imprison suspects indefinitely without charge or due process, or to simply assassinate them. The White House and the Justice Department tolerate and conceal war crimes committed by political elites and those following their orders. America’s founders would shudder in disbelief at the contempt for constitutional rights that has now become the norm.
The Rise of the Security State. The creation of a national security state in which the military, intelligence and security sectors wield predominant influence over the government is not a new concept that was created and developed in response to 9/11. Its leaders and advocates have existed for decades within the defense establishment and the intelligence agencies, with supporters in Congress, the media and Washington think tanks. Throughout the Cold War and afterwards, they pushed incrementally for more power at each opportunity, and confronted civilian leaders who resisted their efforts. They saw the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989 as an opportunity, not to scale back U.S. militarism in a more peaceful world, but to expand it further to achieve global supremacy. In 2001, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 became a “Pearl Harbor moment,” providing a new enemy, and presenting the opportunity to push aggressively for an expanded security state. According to this vision of a transformed America, the overriding purpose of government is to defend against real or imagined enemies; where any means necessary are justified to deal with them; where security policies are defined and implemented in secret and considered exempt from the rule of law; where public discourse is carefully controlled and manipulated using methods of media control; and where the appearance of democracy is promoted while actual democratic principles are systematically dismantled.
Trust Us. Officials tell us not to worry about these vast new powers in the hands of our country’s leaders. We are told that they are necessary to “keep us safe,” and that we should trust the leaders because they are looking out for us and would never abuse their powers and turn them against us. But even if you do trust those currently in power, many fear that the apparatus that is now being constructed creates the opportunity for a future tyrant to use the massive military, police and surveillance power to easily and quickly transform the country into a police state. All the tools for turnkey totalitarianism are there for whomever might be tempted to use them.
Secrecy. Although an informed citizenry has long been considered essential in a democracy, many government officials instead see the free flow of information as a threat to the power and security of the state. The domestic population is increasingly considered unworthy of being trusted with knowledge of what the government is doing. Much of what is kept secret is for the purpose of concealing illegality, corruption and incompetence, and to enable authorities to do as they please without having to provide justification or obtain consent from the public.
Behind Our Backs. Putting policies into effect without the public’s knowledge has become a successful tactic for accomplishing unpopular objectives that would otherwise never by approved or tolerated. Using this ploy, an abusive practice is instituted in secret, and by the time it is finally discovered and publicly revealed, it will have become a fait accompli that is difficult or impossible to roll back.
Intimidating Journalists. Ever since the country’s founding, freedom of speech and freedom of the press have been bedrock principles specifically protected by the Bill of Rights. As the “fourth estate,” a free press is considered necessary to provide a check on the power and actions of the government. Yet, reporters are finding it increasingly difficult to do their jobs as they and their sources are threatened with prosecution. We are now seeing an unprecedented attack on press freedom and what amounts to a criminalizing of journalism that is not government-approved.
Whistleblowers. As the wall of government secrecy is tightened, and as journalists become increasingly threatened, one of the only remaining ways of exposing abuse is from insiders who, out of conscience, choose to publicly reveal wrongdoing they discover. The government views the threat from whistleblowers with such alarm and desperation, that they are now using every means available to stop unauthorized leaks. The resulting persecution and intimidation of whistleblowers is unparalleled in U.S. history. By making examples out of violators with heavy-handed prosecutions and long prison sentences, the authorities are successfully creating a climate of fear among personnel in government agencies. Despite these efforts, insiders are still coming forward, and we are likely to see many more courageous whistleblowers, particularly among the younger generation.
Trumping Public Opinion. A chilling example of the power of the security state is how it’s agenda and priorities continue to prevail regardless of public opinion, or which politicians are elected to office. To the disappointment of many of the supporters who helped get Barack Obama elected, the White House has done little to reverse the abuses of the Bush era, and in fact has expanded them, kept them secret and opposed any accountability or prosecutions.
Accountabilty. As the White House and Justice Department continue to tolerate and conceal war crimes committed by political elites and those following their orders, it becomes increasingly apparent that there is a two-tiered justice system in the US. Members of the political class are largely immune from accountability for criminal actions, while common citizens are subjected to what is becoming the most draconian judicial and imprisonment system in the world, with nearly 25% of the world’s prison population, most of them minorities and minor drug offenders.
A Turning Point. By any measure, the forces pushing for expanded security state power are succeeding. The question now is whether these measures will become irreversible and permanent, or whether Americans will wake up to the reality of where they are headed and begin a mass movement to restore democracy and the rule of law. Otherwise, the magnificent achievement that America’s founders fought and struggled for, and which survived for more than two centuries, will have died without a fight.
The story is told in dramatic exposé style by key players, journalists and experts, combined with narration and clips of media coverage, press conferences and congressional testimony. It follows a coherent chronology of events, and presents a story of arrogance, secrecy, and deception that will be surprising, if not shocking, to most viewers. Although the story focuses on recent actions during the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, it places those events into a broad historical context that makes recent developments and the roles of the people involved more clearly understood.
WHY THIS PROJECT IS NEEDED
Even though the country has undergone dramatic changes since 9/11, much of it has happened without many Americans noticing or even caring. A highly effective and sophisticated system of media control supports and manipulates public opinion, keeping the population distracted, ignorant and afraid. Fear plays a major part in convincing the public that aggressive measures are necessary to protect them from dangerous enemies. But the fear has been deliberately provoked and exaggerated in order to create public acceptance of expanded security measures and foreign military interventions.
America’s founders understood that a fully functioning democracy requires an informed populace. Yet today the majority of the U.S. public is, sadly, very poorly informed. Although fragments of information appear sporadically in media coverage, the overall effect and reality of government abuse is not well understood.There is a critical need for increased awareness if there is to be any kind of meaningful reform and participation by citizens in determining the country’s security policies.
There are encouraging indications that the public consciousness is beginning to wake up to government abuses and how they threaten democracy and basic civil liberties. The recent revelations about secret mass surveillance are raising suspicions among an increasingly skeptical public that is hungry for clarifying information. We are entering a critical time. The conflict between these competing forces is reaching a tipping point that will determine what kind of society we and future generations will be living in.
There have been a number of films, books and articles about specific aspects of the information covered in Seizing Power, but there has been very little that looks at the overall systemic influences that underlie them. Seizing Power addresses this problem, and provides a much-needed overview to understand the forces driving this transformation.
Seizing Power is produced by the Empowerment Project, which has been making successful documentaries on social and political issues for more than 25 years. Among its many awards is the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature in 1992 for The Panama Deception. The films have been widely distributed to theatrical, television, educational and retail markets both in the US and abroad. The Empowerment Project is a 501(C)(3) non-profit organization, so donations are eligible for income tax deduction.