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COLUMN SIXTY-SEVEN, JANUARY 1, 2002
(Copyright © 2002 Al Aronowitz)
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LIBERTIES GOING THE WAY OF THE WORLD TRADE CENTER
Draconian Law Enforcement is not a Solution to Terrorism
Date: Fri, 9 Nov 2001 23:16:20 -0800 (PST)
From: portsideMod firstname.lastname@example.org
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Law Enforcement is not a Solution to Terrorism
Ratner is a human rights attorney with the
live just a few blocks from the World Trade Center. In New York, we are still
mourning the loss of so many after the attacks on our city. We want to arrest
and punish the terrorists, eliminate the terrorist network and prevent future
attacks. But the government's declared war on terrorism, and some of the
anti-terrorism measures planned, include a curtailment of freedom and
constitutional rights that have many of us concerned.
domestic consequences of the war on terrorism
claimed necessity for this war at home is problematic. The legislation and other
governmental actions are premised on the belief that the intelligence agencies
failed to stop the September 11th attack because they lacked the
spying capability to find and arrest the conspirators. Yet neither the
government nor the agencies have demonstrated that this is the reason.
war at home gives Americans a false sense of security, allowing us to believe
that tighter borders, vastly empowered intelligence agencies, and increased
surveillance will stop terrorism. The United States is not yet a police state.
But even a police state could not stop terrorists intent on doing us harm. And
the fantasy of Fortress America keeps us from examining the root causes of
terrorism, and the consequences of
New Legal Regime
government has established a tripartite plan in its efforts to eradicate
terrorism in the United States. President Bush has created a new cabinet-level
Homeland Security Office; the Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating
thousands of individuals and groups and making hundreds of arrests; and Congress
is enacting new laws that will grant the FBI and other intelligence agencies
vast new powers to wiretap and spy on people in the United States.
Office of Homeland Security
September 20th President Bush announced the creation of the Homeland Security
Office, charged with gathering intelligence, coordinating anti-terrorism efforts
and taking precautions to prevent and respond to terrorism. It is not yet known
how this office will function, but it will most likely try to centralize the
powers of the intelligence and law enforcement agencies---a difficult, if not
impossible, job---among some 40 bickering agencies. Those concerned with its
establishment are worried that it will become a super spy agency and, as its
very name implies, that the military will play a role in domestic law
Investigations and Arrests
FBI has always done more than chase criminals; like the Central Intelligence
Agency it has long considered itself the protector of U.S. ideology. Those who
opposed government policies---whether civil rights workers, anti-Vietnam war
protestors, opponents of the covert Reagan-era wars or cultural
dissidents---have repeatedly been surveyed and had their activities disrupted by
the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attack, Attorney General John
Ashcroft focused on non-citizens, whether permanent residents, students,
temporary workers or tourists. Normally, an alien can only be held for 48 hours
prior to the filing of charges. Ashcroft's new regulation allowed arrested
aliens to be held without any charges for a "reasonable time,"
presumably months or longer.
FBI began massive detentions and investigations of individuals suspected of
terrorist connections, almost all of them non-citizens of Middle Eastern
descent; over 1,100 have been arrested. Many were held for days without access
to lawyers or knowledge of the charges against them; many are still in
detention. Few, if any, have been proven to have a connection with the
some of those arrested are not willing to talk to the FBI, although they have
been offered shorter jail sentences, jobs, money and new identities.
the FBI and the Department of Justice are discussing methods to force them to
talk, which include "using drugs or pressure tactics such as those employed
by the Israeli interrogators." The accurate term to describe these tactics
is torture. Our government wants to torture people to make them talk.
is resistance to this even from law enforcement officials. One former FBI Chief
of Counter Terrorism, said in an October New York Newsday article, "Torture
goes against every grain in my body. Chances are you are going to get the wrong
person and risk damage or killing them."
torture is illegal in the United States and under international law, U.S.
officials risk lawsuits by such practices. For this reason, they have suggested
having another country do their dirty work; they want to extradite the suspects
to allied countries where security services threaten family members and use
torture. It would be difficult to imagine a more ominous signal of the
repressive period we are facing.
FBI is also currently investigating groups it claims are linked to
terrorism---among them pacifist groups such as the U.S. chapter of Women in
Black, which holds vigils to protest violence in Israel and the Palestinian
Territories. The FBI has threatened to force members of Women in Black to either
talk about their group or go to jail. As one of the group's members said,
"If the FBI cannot or will not distinguish between groups who collude in
hatred and terrorism, and peace activists who struggle in the full light of day
against all forms of terrorism we are in serious trouble."
the FBI does not make that distinction. We are facing not only the roundup of
thousands on flimsy suspicions, but also an all-out investigation of dissent in
the United States.
New Anti-Terrorist Legislation
the time of this writing, the United States Congress has passed and President
Bush will soon sign sweeping new anti-terrorist legislation aimed at both aliens
and citizens. The proposed legislation met more opposition than one might expect
in these difficult times. A National Coalition to Protect Political Freedom of
over 120 groups ranging from the right to the left opposed the worst aspects of
the proposed new law. They succeeded in making minor modifications, but the most
troubling provisions remain, and are described below:
to the legislation, anti-terrorist laws passed in the wake of the 1996 bombing
of the federal building in Oklahoma had already given the government wide powers
to arrest, detain and deport aliens based upon secret evidence---evidence that
neither the alien nor his attorney could view or refute. The current proposed
legislation makes it even worse for aliens.
the law would permit "mandatory detention" of aliens certified by the
attorney general as "suspected terrorists." These could include aliens
involved in barroom brawls or those who have provided only humanitarian
assistance to organizations disfavored by the United States. Once certified in
this way, an alien could be imprisoned indefinitely with no real opportunity for
court challenge. Until now, such "preventive detention" was believed
to be flatly unconstitutional.
current law permits deportation of aliens who support terrorist activity; the
proposed law would make aliens deportable for almost any association with a
"terrorist organization." Although this change seems to have a certain
surface plausibility, it represents a dangerous erosion of Americans'
constitutionally protected rights of association. "Terrorist
organization" is a broad and open-ended term that could include liberation
groups such as the Irish Republican Army, the African National Congress, or
civic groups that have ever engaged in any violent activity, such as Greenpeace.
An alien who gives only medical or humanitarian aid to similar groups, or simply
supports their political message in a material way could be jailed indefinitely.
Powers to the FBI and CIA
key element in the new law is the wide expansion of wiretapping. In the United
States wiretapping is permitted, but generally only when there is probable cause
to believe a crime has been committed and a judge signs a special wiretapping
order that contains limited time periods, the numbers of the telephones
wiretapped and the type of conversations that can be overheard.
1978, an exception was made to these strict requirements, permitting wiretapping
to be carried out to gather intelligence information about foreign governments
and foreign terrorist organizations. A secret court was established that could
approve such wiretaps without requiring the government to show evidence of
criminal conduct. In doing so the constitutional protections necessary when
investigating crimes could be bypassed. Eventually, the secret court's
jurisdiction was expanded so that it could permit the FBI to secretly search
homes and offices as well as obtain bank records and the like. The secret court
is little more than a rubber stamp for wiretapping requests by the spy agencies.
It has authorized over 10,000 wiretaps in its 22-year existence, approximately a
thousand last year, and has apparently never denied a request.
the new law, the same secret court will have the power to authorize wiretaps and
secret searches of homes in criminal cases---not just to gather foreign
intelligence. The FBI will be able to wiretap individuals and organizations
without meeting the stringent requirements of the Constitution. The law will
authorize the secret court to permit roving wiretaps of any phones, computers or
cell phones that might possibly be used by a suspect. Widespread reading of
e-mail will be allowed, even before the recipient opens it. Thousands of
conversations will be listened to or read that have nothing to do with the
suspect or any crime.
new legislation is filled with many other expansions of investigative and
prosecutorial power, including wider use of undercover agents to infiltrate
organizations, longer jail sentences and lifetime supervision for some who have
served their sentences, more crimes that can receive the death penalty and
longer statutes of limitations for prosecuting crimes. Another provision of the
new bill makes it a crime for a person to fail to notify the FBI if he or she
has "reasonable grounds to believe" that someone is about to commit a
terrorist offense. The language of this provision is so vague that anyone,
however innocent, with any connection to anyone suspected of being a terrorist
can be prosecuted.
the new legislation represents one of the most sweeping assaults on liberties in
the last 50 years. It is unlikely to make us more secure; it is certain to make
us less free.
at Home: Unofficial and Official
in the United States during this war period is rampant. The White House press
secretary, Ari Fleisher, warned that "people have to watch what they say
and what they do." A prevalent attitude is that you are either with us or
against us; questioning the practices and policies of the United States is
considered unpatriotic. Dissenters from the drumbeats of war or those who want
to examine underlying causes for the attack are given almost no voice; if they
dare to speak they are roundly castigated. The logic is that we do not criticize
our nation at war and that to examine causes is to excuse the terrorists.
is what happened when Susan Sontag, the New York intellectual, disputed the
assumption that the September 11 attack was an assault on
"civilization" or "liberty." Instead she wrote that it was
an attack on "the world's self-proclaimed superpower, undertaken as a
consequence of specific American alliances and actions." She was furiously
attacked in the media as part of the "hate-America crowd" and as
"morally obtuse." Almost anyone who dares examine what might lie
behind the hatred felt by many in the Mideast toward America is attacked for
those views. The New York Daily News described those who sought to look at the
roots of the terror as "60's throwbacks, radical Muslims, far-
by the media and even liberal organizations is also occurring. Often this occurs
by simply not airing alternative views---one show actually cutoff the microphone
in mid-sentence of a guest arguing for a legal not a military response. A radio
station apparently fired a well-known journalist for broadcasting an interview
with the one member of Congress, Barbara Lee, who voted against the war. A
number of journalists have been fired for criticizing the president. TV stations
have rarely covered the protests against the war and the views of those opposed
to the war are demeaned. A New York Times headline about a peace demonstration
was titled "Protestors Urge Peace with Terrorists" despite calls at
the demonstration for bringing the terrorists to justice.
no criticism of U.S. leaders is permitted---even when unrelated to the war. Two
major environmental organizations, the Sierra Club and the Natural
censorship has become more and more overt. For a short while President Bush said
he was going to curtail military and intelligence briefings to Congress. This
would have cut the Congress out of the war making process and left all decisions
in the hands of the President---an act both dangerous and unconstitutional.
Luckily, the president reversed himself within a few days, but whether he is
giving Congress a full report is unknown.
the press receives very little information; it receives briefings of a general
nature about military affairs, but reporters are not permitted to accompany the
troops onto the aircraft carriers or even into Oman, where Army Rangers are
based. Nor has there been full access to government officials; many have refused
to answer requests for interviews. These are the most severe restrictions on the
press probably in U.S. history, and certainly since before World War II.
most remarkable act of censorship was the government's request that the five
major TV networks not fully air the prerecorded statements of Osama bin Laden
and his associates. The White House claimed it did not want bin Laden's
propaganda messages about killing Americans widely broadcast, and that the
statements might contain secret codes. Neither reason made much sense: bin
Laden's statements are already widely available around the world, and airing
them in the United States would more likely build support for the war among
Americans, not undermine it. As for secret messages, the government admits that
none have been found. Nonetheless, the TV networks agreed not to run the tapes,
and the government has extended its request to print media.
United States has always prided itself on its constitutional protection of free
speech and a free press, a freedom considered especially important at times of
war when vigorous public debate is essential to a democracy.
is not uncommon for governments to reach for draconian law enforcement solutions
in times of war or national crisis. It has happened often in the United States
and elsewhere. We should learn from historical example: times of hysteria, of
war, and of instability are not the times to rush to enact new laws that curtail
our freedoms and grant more authority to the government and its intelligence and
law enforcement agencies.
The U.S government has conceptualized the war against terrorism as a permanent war, a war without boundaries. Terrorism is frightening to all of us, but it's equally chilling to think that in the name of antiterrorism our government is willing to suspend constitutional freedoms permanently as well. ##
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