Win a trip to Cascais, Portugal!
Page Not Found
Experimental medical research on inmates is on the rise.
What Bush should have learned from the Cold War.
Inside Ashcroft's police state.
The AFL-CIO regroups.
Racism on Trial
Affirmative action on the ropes.
England moves to decriminalize narcotics.
Back in the U.S.S.R?
No, but former Communists are retaking power in Eastern Europe.
Mexicans head south of the border.
Death threats and plant closings threaten workers rights in Guatemala.
Pearl Watson: A Woman, A Plan, A Canal.
BOOKS: Vivian Gornick's political struggle.
2G or not 2G?
BOOKS: Stories of The Holocaust Kid.
FILM: The Royal Tenenbaums, Lord of the Rings, Ocean's Eleven.
The clubs were alive with the sound of John's sax ...
December 7, 2001
of the United States, be advised that the federal government can now examine
your medical, educational and financial history, all without your knowledge
and without even presenting evidence of a crime.
Police now can obtain court orders to conduct so-called sneak-and-peak searches
of your homes and offices and remove or alter your possessions without your
knowledge. Internet service providers and telephone companies can be compelled
to turn over your customer information, including the phone numbers youve
called and Internet sites youve surfedall, again, without a court
order, if the FBI claims the records are relevant to a terrorism investigation.
A secret court can permit roving wiretaps of any telephone or computer you might
possibly use; reading your e-mail is allowed, even before you open it.
These are just some of the provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001the
bills title is an acronym for Uniting and Strengthening America
by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorismwhich
President George W. Bush signed into law on October 26. In passing the legislation,
Senate Majority Leader Thomas Daschle said Congress was able to find what
I think is the appropriate balance between protecting civil liberties, privacy,
and ensuring that law enforcement has the tools to do what it must.
The fears provoked by the kamikaze hijackings and the anthrax incidents that
followed explain why many legislators have been less protective of civil liberties.
Those progressive legislators who supported the legislation said the unique
and deadly circumstances of the 9/11 attacks already had predisposed them to
support strong action, and many noted that a sunset provision would allow the
bills most controversial surveillance sections to expire in 2005. But
the Bill of Rights was designed to offer a judicial sanctuary from political
passions. If progressive legislators dont make that clear, who will?
The events of 9/11 make it plain that the United States has enemies willing
to die for their cause, and it would be impractical, even foolish, to deny the
need for increased national vigilance. Ratcheting up our security is necessary,
if only to enhance citizens sense of well-being. And, according to a Newsweek
poll reported in the publications December 10 edition, 86 percent
think the administration has not gone too far in restricting civil liberties
in its response to terrorism.
The import of the USA PATRIOT Act was presaged by the Clinton administrations
anti-terrorism bill of 1996, which broadened the governments investigative
and prosecutorial powers. And even before that, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance
Act of 1978 allowed the wiretapping of non-citizens by approval of a secret
court with secret evidence. But this new legislation ups the ante considerably.
This new legislation goes far beyond any powers conceivably necessary
to fight terrorism in the United States, says Laura Murphy of the American
Civil Liberties Union. The long-term impact on basic freedoms in this
legislation cannot be justified.
the charge in the wake of 9/11 is Attorney General John Ashcroft, who, for starters,
launched a nationwide dragnet that rounded up more than 1,000 foreign nationals
and detained most of them on minor immigration charges. Many have since been
released after officials found they had no connection to terrorism. As of December
6, 603 foreign nationals remain in custody. On Halloween, Ashcroft issued an
order allowing federal authorities to monitor communications between federal
prisoners and their lawyers without first obtaining a judicial warrant. He argued
that this new power is necessary to prevent terrorist attacks planned under
cover of lawyer-client privilege.
The administrations power grab is so audacious that it has prompted a
new alliance between the civil-liberties left and the libertarian right. New
York Times columnist William Safire characterized Bushs strategy as
a sudden seizure of power by the executive branch, bypassing all constitutional
checks and balances. The ACLU, joined by 16 other civil rights and human
rights groups, filed suit on December 5, charging the Justice Department with
violating the Constitution and federal law through its detention policies.
Mining public fears for all the right-wing treasures he can get, Ashcroft also
has proposed relaxing restrictions on the FBIs spying on religious and
political organizations. The guidelines Ashcroft has targeted were imposed on
the FBI in the 70s after the death of J. Edgar Hoover and revelations
about the COINTELPRO programwhich included disclosures of the agencys
surveillance and harassment of Martin Luther King Jr. In Chicago, activists
recently commemorated another poignant signpost of COINTELPRO infamy: the police
assassination of Black Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark on December
4, 1969. COINTELPRO ultimately was condemned as little more than a sophisticated
vigilante action by the Congress and shut down.
But under Section 802 of the USA PATRIOT Act, a person commits the crime of
domestic terrorism if he engages in activity that involves
acts dangerous to human life that violate the laws of the U.S. or any state
and appear to be intended: to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; to
influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or to affect
the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping.
This definition of terrorism could allow the feds to go after environmental,
civil rights or anti-globalization groups, among others, for their dissenting
views or direct-action protests.
extremism is always fertilized by external threats. At its most notorious extreme,
Adolph Hitlers Nazi Party rose like a rocket after the 1933 Reichstag
fire convinced the German people that the Bolsheviks were out to get them. At
the Nuremberg Trials, Hitlers second-in-command, Hermann Goering, aptly
explained the process: The people can always be brought to do the bidding
of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being
attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the
country to danger.
This eerily familiar formula is so effective that it has become enshrined in
U.S. traditions, even if it violates strictures of the Constitution. During
times of war, the chief executive has implemented many extra-constitutional
edicts: Abraham Lincoln unilaterally suspended habeas corpus during the
Civil War; the infamous, anti-Communist Palmer Raids of 1920 arrested thousands
of people without warrants or due process; Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the
internment of more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans in squalid camps. In retrospect,
these excessive actions invariably have been condemned as historical blemishes.
But todays policy-makers seem oblivious to the lessons of history as
they implement actions that echoand amplifythose past excesses.
Roosevelt also ordered a special military tribunal for eight accused Nazi spies,
six of whom were later executed. The Supreme Court upheld Roosevelts tribunal
as it has most other questionable actions of wartime presidents. And the Bush
administration has used the top courts 8-0 decision in 1942 as a precedent
to bolster the presidents own proposed military tribunals. Bush has assumed
unchecked power as commander-in-chief to detain and try any non-citizen he suspects
of committing terrorist acts or helping international terrorists. These suspects
can be secretly arrested, tried, convicted and executed even if prosecutors
failed to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt.
Like the Bush administrations war, the future of our civil liberties
is fuzzy and indeterminate. Since this is a war on the tactic of terrorism
rather than on a tangible enemy, there is no entity to offer a formal surrender.
The warand the concomitant wartime powers and prerogativescan
be extended indefinitely; only the Bush administration has the power to declare
the wars end.
Soon after 9/11, Bush said the people who perpetuated the terrorist murders hate America because of our freedoms. After a few more executive orders and congressional capitulations, they wont have much left to hate.