OF PRINCIPALITIES AND POWERS - “Freedom Will Be Defended”

(12/10/2001)

By Tony Russell

The real test of a country’s principles comes when it deals with the despised. It’s relatively easy to be fair to our relatives and friends. To the people of our social class, our sex, our skin color, our language, our religion. But those outside the pale? Our enemies?

For Christians, of course, the charge is unequivocal. As Good News for Modern Man puts it, “But now I tell you: love your enemies, and pray for those who mistreat you, so that you will become the sons of your Father in heaven. For he makes his sun to shine on bad and good people alike, and gives rain to those who do right and those who do wrong. Why should you expect God to reward you, if you love only the people who love you?”

For Americans of whatever persuasion, the secular charge is likewise unmistakable. When our government was formed, Antifederalists feared the potential for abuse of a strong central government. They wanted written guarantees of individual liberties. Federalists argued that a guarantee of rights was unnecessary, since citizens had the power to protect their rights by electing trustworthy leaders. That argument was unpersuasive, however, and in the end, Federalists yielded to the people’s overwhelming desire, and a Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution. Without the Bill of Rights, the Constitution would never have been ratified. Among its guarantees are the rights to freedom of religion, speech, the press, political activity, the right to bear arms as members of a militia, freedom from searches without warrants, and fair treatment for individuals charged with crimes. The real progress in American history can be traced in the long struggle to recognize that those rights should apply to everyone, not just to native-born white male property owners.

But nowadays history is not our strongpoint. Nor theology. The love of country that surged after the terrorists’ attack has been hijacked, turned against the very principles our flag symbolizes. “Freedom Will Be Defended,” say the license plates and bumper stickers. Wrong. Freedom will be attacked, by the very people waving the flag. Our biggest threat is not from terrorists; it is from our own willingness to sell our freedoms down the river. Foreign terrorists toppled two towers; we are pulling down the pillars of our democracy. If those go, they’ve won.

Does that sound alarmist? Look at the facts. By executive order, Mr. Bush established an “Office of Homeland Security” that is totally exempt from congressional oversight. Congress has no say in the people selected to staff it. There are no limitations on its power. It is a domestic police apparatus completely under the control of the President. This is America?

The Federalists among us would say, “What’s to worry about? Don’t you trust the President?” In a word, no. But even those who do trust him should have enough sense to trust laws, not princes. One only has to go back to the Nixon era, when Mr. Nixon loosed the Internal Revenue Service and the FBI on civil rights leaders, antiwar groups, political activists, and people who simply criticized him, to know that a leader’s popularity doesn’t guarantee that he’s trustworthy.

As a direct result of the Nixon administration’s abuses, Congress erected legal firewalls between foreign and domestic intelligence agencies. The “Anti-Terrorism Law” recently rushed through Congress tears down those firewalls. It enables the government to change the primary mission of the FBI from solving crimes to spying on people in the U.S. The law also defines terrorism in a way that includes political activity protected by the Bill of Rights. It gives police the power to carry out secret searches, expands wiretap and other electronic surveillance, and enables the police to detain terrorism “suspects” indefinitely. This is America?

At the same time, the Justice Department has rounded up over a thousand individuals. They have been held without charges. Their families often have no idea where they are being held. Many have been denied legal counsel or contact with their lawyers. The government eavesdropped on conversations between those jailed and their attorneys, summarily dismissing the fundamental attorney-client privilege. Many have been held in solitary confinement. A few have been charged in secret court proceedings. This is America?

Mr. Bush has also announced that he will try terrorists before military tribunals. He claims that he has the right to do that, and apparently Congress is too cowardly to call him on that claim. Given Mr. Ashcroft’s testimony before the Senate this week, it appears that, in these tribunals, the defendants will not have the right to select their own attorney. The rules of evidence will be altered to permit evidence excluded in civilian proceedings. The right to review and appeal will be denied. This is America?

Mr. Bush is a young man. But his administration is packed with returnees from the Reagan and Bush the Elder administrations who supported right-wing death squads in Central America; excused the murder of nuns, priests, labor leaders, newspaper reporters, and thousands of innocent Indians; overthrew the democratically-elected government of Salvador Allende in Chile; taught methods of torture and repression to military staff at the School of the Americas; and funded illegal operations through arrangements with dope dealers. Their record hardly invites trust.

Yes, the terrorist attacks were murderous and brutal. Yes, people involved in planning and financing the attacks should be brought to justice. But not in kangaroo and justice for all.” I would emphasize the “all.” So go ahead. Stick that bumper sticker on your pickup. “Freedom Will Be Defended.” Just be sure you know what you’re defending. Not the sacrifice of fundamental freedoms. Not by turning ourselves into a police state. This used to be a country where we cherished the ideal of “liberty


Hur Herald ®from Sunny Cal
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