Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Top 10 Casualties of the Patriot Act

Bridgethought of the Day: Welcome to the Patriot Act - Undermining the very thing it is supposed to protect - "the land of the free and home of the brave"... Welcome to government by fear, Welcome to Fortress America, where no one goes unwatched ...

Is the "War on Terror: Homeland Front" doing its job? Is the Patriot Act keeping out the enemies of freedom, and protecting Americans? Are we safer now than before? Are we protecting our democracy? Or are we undermining our own freedom, democracy, and even our own security? How could the legislation that is supposed to make law enforcement more efficient in catching terrorists now be the very instrument of our own demise as a world power and as a safe and secure place for children to grow up in?

The Patriot Act introduced sweeping changes into how government operates. It grants broad powers to the FBI and other law enforcement agencies, such as the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, to conduct secret surveillance of people and share information so obtained, based only on suspicion and not on probable cause, and then to take action against persons in many cases without due process, and against which action there is no legal recourse for the accused. Suspicion of terrorism, even merely by association, however tentative that association, and without consideration of mitigating factors such as a history of law-abiding contribution to society, can lead to revocation of citizenship and criminal prosecution... perhaps re-classification as a non-human "enemy combatant" who is fair game for torture ... until proven innocent - and lots of luck with that...

Here's Top Ten in the Patriot Act carnage:

10. A sense of security.
There is the urgency to undercut the feeling that we are safe in our homes and that law enforcement is capable of maintaining that safety for the majority of law-abiding, income-producing citizens. The constant refrain "Don't be lulled into a false sense of security", is designed to make us feel guilty if we feel relatively safe. The Patriot Act is based on the presumption that we are not secure and need to take drastic measures to become safe.

9. Mutual Trust.
If people in a society are supposed to suspect and fear others in their midst - others who may be hard to identify - lurking perhaps everywhere, then it becomes a cultural and ethical norm to suspect and betray the privacy of others for the so-called "greater good" of Homeland Security.
But without mutual trust, economic activity diminishes, contributions to society slide, a general willingness to help or to forgive others shrivels, and the kinds of compromise required for a large and complex society to function effectively are avoided as a security risk. The greater imperative encouraged by the Patriot Act is wariness and suspicion. Since the actual number of bona fide terrorists is miniscule in comparison to the general population, we will become increasingly wary of and antagonistic to each other. There's this huge infrastructure in place, and not much actual "enemy" material to work with, so who do you think will be the object of all that paid attention? Osama bin Laden? Or ... everyone else ...?

8. Rule of Law.
The Patriot Act presumes that the rule of law, as it stood, was insufficient to ward off terrorism, and that the terrorist attack on 9-11 was the result of security breaches due to excessive freedom, too many checks and balances, and too much due process, not enough secrecy in government, and far too little surveillance with too many protections for individuals from government excess. The Patriot Act then "corrected" these "weaknesses" in order to secure the American state from outside attack, supposedly.
Since the rule of law was considered a weakness, this creates the general consensus that the Rule of Law in itself is insufficient or inefficient to deal with crime or crisis. It's not, as portrayed to the public, a case of making laws "more strict." In fact, it's a case of making the laws more lax on government, favoring the accuser over the accused, hence creating an imbalance in the scales of justice that leans toward mob rule and revenge, where "strict" and "strong" means "vicious" and the "strongest" laws are those that hold human life in the greatest possible disregard - reinstating torture as an "acceptable" technique and creating a right-less subhuman class of persons called "enemy combatants" who have neither country nor family nor rights nor due process nor recognition of their belonging to the same species as American government agents.

7. The Moral High Ground.
Goodbye America the Beautiful, Land of the Free and Home of the Brave. Hello, expediency. Hello, Fortress America, Land of the Watched and Home of the Suspicious.
Abu Ghraib was not an isolated "rogue" incident. It is the logical outcome of a policy, exemplified by the Patriot Act and the policies in place at Guantanamo, which demonizes enemies to where degradation and torture are all part of accepted behavior. Remember, it's for the "greater good" of Homeland Security.
The only argument one dares to raise against torture is a self-serving, expedient one: were we to allow torture of others, then others might conceivably be allowed to torture us. But the higher ground argument that such actions are by definition unconscionable no longer rules. Who wants to be accused of weakness in a culture of power?
As a result, the world looks down at us as abusive, oppressive, inconsiderate boors with their own self-interest and power-grabs ONLY in mind. And we wonder why they don't love us!

6. Due process - the 5th and 6th Amendments to the Constitution.
Amendment V
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
Amendment VI
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

The Patriot Act removes all these safeguards from terrorism suspects, terrorism being considered a class in itself of criminal activity, with its own code of law wherein these guarantees are denied. One could say this is incidence of war - but that is referring to actual fighters and militia, not someone's grandmother using a library to look up "Islam"... Yet technically, according to the Patriot Act, that grandmother could have a National Security Letter taken out on her because of her suspicious behavior of looking up "Islam", and the FBI, without her knowledge, could tap her private emails and phone calls, and exchange them with, say, the government of Sweden, or Israel, or, for that matter, Singapore, should they so desire. Next thing she knows, some Belgian spies are watching her apartment for suspicious activity, trying to find out the facts on the "cell" she supposedy belongs to.

What is she accused of? She can't find out. What are the witnesses against her? Nole mi tangere. Who will speak out in her behalf? Nobody even knows this is happening! It's all secret. We might say "that's a shame" if her name is Ethel Johnson. But what if her name is Naima Abdullateef? Maybe her son is a terrorist. And if he is, she's sure as hell going down with him. Thanks to the Patriot act. She is unwittingly a witness against herself in an entirely clandestine suspicion-based crime investigation. And not just any crime. The Crime of Crimes: terrorism.

5. The 4th Amendment.
Amendment IV
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Congress, no less, has passed an Act of law basically circumventing this right. The right itself, like due process, is considered a weakness, a security hole that must be plugged. The executive branch, no less, now has the right to search and seize private information and communications from any and all private citizens or non-citizens, in the name of the "greater good" of Homeland Security. To hell with probable cause - suspicion is enough! This brings the rule of law right down to where laws become discretionary playthings in the hands of individuals with power. It's emotion and prejudice trumping logic and principle. In our culture of power, what counts is who has the biggest stick, not who carries the torch. If there is a torch, in the power-culture, it's used to torch someone or something, certainly not to light the way.

With the Patriot Act, it's no longer about where we're going. It's about what we're going to take, or how much we can grab.

4. The 2nd Amendment and 8th Amendment.
Amendment II
A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

Amendment VIII
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

These two amendments may not seem related, but the Patriot Act mows both down by presuming terror suspects to be undeserving of liberty or human rights - In the case of the 2nd Amendment, bearing arms itself may fall into the category of "suspicious activity", where "suspicious" is largely undefined, and arms could conceivably be used by terrorists, and therefore could raise "red flags." And what was the point of the 2nd Amendment? To keep citizens free from a potentially hostile or oppressive government or even environment, and to maintain their own security and liberty. Now that the Patriot Act has forced citizens to surrender security issues solely to powerful government agents, and made all government's activities protected by secrecy, it creates an atmosphere where federal government power is the common good, is identified as "the greater good" of Homeland Security. People bearing arms forms a threat, and could be prosecuted as "terrorism" under the right circumstances.

In the case of terror suspects, no bail is allowed, and in interrogations, cruel and unusual techniques are mandated, even though the subject of interrogation is only under suspicion and not receiving punishment for a crime of which he has been duly convicted. In other words, if cruel and unusual punishment is unconstitutional, what about cruel and unusual interrogation methods, where the latter carries the possibility of complete innocence on the part of the subject? These are not questions addressed by the Patriot Act. It's all about the image of a bigger and bigger stick.

3. The First Amendment.

Amendment I
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

The Patriot Act makes it lawful for the government, particularly the Executive Branch, to use "speech" or published writings, on the internet or otherwise, that it finds "suspicious" or indicative of terrorist activity or support or even sympathy, against any individual as "evidence" of a potential security threat hence terrorist threat, and thus prosecute and/or detain that individual without due process based on such speech or "press" activity. If this is not an "abridgement" of the freedom of speech and the press, I don't know what could possibly be.

Not so long ago, we used to chide the Soviet Union for their lack of freedom of the press or of speech, because they would hold it against someone if he criticized the government or spoke out in any way against the regime. Now we have enshrined in law the capability of government to essentially take punitive action against people for their words, perhaps using "keywords" such as "bomb" or "jihad", and such people are treated as guilty until proven innocent. But it's all for the "greater good" of Homeland Security.

As for freedom of religion, there is still more of that here than in most so-called "Muslim countries" (where Muslims are generally not free to practice Islam, except a government-sterilized version), but nonetheless, the Patriot Act does put a damper on religious activities for Muslims in America by making mosques and Islamic gatherings on the "keyword" list for suspicious activities where it is presumed terrorist cells may be congregating and planning their next exploding pot luck dinner. Again, even though the percentage of actual terrorists even among Muslims is infinitesimally slim (by all official counts), it is guilt-by-association, where Muslims are considered fair game in the suspicion-driven money-fueled mandate to find and stop terrorists, even if there aren't any, wherever Joint Terrorism Task Forces are sold.

2. The Constitution.

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

So the Constitution was designed to accomplish all the things the Patriot Act was written to do. Isn't it strange that the Constitution worked for 200 years, and then suddenly, in 2001, stopped working, and needed to be circumvented? Why is liberty, once so precious and powerful, now so cheap and such a liability? Why now is it supposed to "insure domestic tranquility" to dump the very rights that once secured the peace? Why do we now see draconian measures and executive overkill as the road to victory and power? Why is it no longer about checks and balances and suddenly now about who has the biggest stick? Why do we abandon marriage/diplomacy and go for invasion/rape? Did somebody inject us with political testesterone?

Section 3. Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.

Because the high crime of treason, in a sense the highest or worst national crime, had strict protections so as not to be abused, a new crime had to be invented, called "terrorism", for which no protections for the accused exist, and for which "association" even by being a relative, are considered grounds for conviction. No need for "witnesses" or "overt act" here. All we need is someone who doesn't like you, has a fairly decent reputation, and wants to hurt you by claiming you commit some terrorist act or contribute to terrorism, and you're toast. No trial, no jury. No confession. Someone says he thinks you're guilty - sayonara, baby. Welcome to Homeland Security Hell. But it's all for the "greater good" of Homeland Security. Who cares if it doesn't work?

1. The United States of America, Superpower.

The final casualty of the Patriot Act and all that goes with it, such as military training programs that create a "sense of enmity" by dehumanizing the enemy, so the soldiers can be more vicious, hence more "powerful" (yeah, right), or the fun & games at Gitmo, is the very thing we are trying to defend - America itself.
Without our Constitution, Bill of Rights, freedoms, checks and balances, rule of law, moral high ground, mutual trust, and sense of safety and security at home, without concern for our fellow man or humans, what the hell are we? America? Oh, really? Is America then just a cultural roundup of celebrities and fast-food gluttony? Is it just about money and excess? Is it just about power? Is that what the people of the world are supposed to look up to and say "Leader of the Planet"? Will God "shed His grace" on this brave new world? Are we lying to ourselves?
Americans are a pariah in Europe - just go there and listen to the word on the street. People absolutely hate Americans around the world. Because of the very crassness with which we expediently drop our moral values for more flashy power-plays and resource-grabs. To the world, it's transparent that the U.S. invaded Iraq for geopolitical clout and lotsa petroleum - period. Only the American people diligently believed the obvious lies manufactured by U.S. government spinsters. Only the naive and trusting American journalists played out the lies as if they could possibly be considered seriously as truth - to this very day, they discuss the idea of the Iraq war as a war for democracy in the Middle East, as if this could actually have been genuinely true. Wow - as H.L. Mencken once said, "no one ever lost money overestimating the stupidity of the American people." Why do you think the government is so rich it can squander trillions and you can't even know about it?
And like all great empires, this one too must come to an end. The same way, too - death by hubris. But we have packaged our hubris in one neat little legislative doozie, the Patriot Act. It's supposed to keep America safe from terrorists - by simply eliminating America - so they won't have anything to attack! No democracy, no freedom, no rights, no problem!
The problem is, what the terrorists were trying to attack was not freedom, rights and democracy (contrary to common belief), but oppression, or what they perceived as U.S.-supported oppression. And that still stands. Then someone told some of them that they sure picked a hell of a stupid way to fight oppression. And we've been hard-pressed to find any really threatening cells since then. Though our truthy government tells us they are stopping terrorist plots right and left 24/7. Do you believe that?
Then maybe you believe that we are in Iraq so they don't come here, not in Iraq so they don't have to come here, and not in Iraq so we can keep them all riled up and active so we can grease the war machines and get those ratings up and save the G.O.P. from death by association. Maybe you don't believe it's much easier for them to kill Americans over there on their turf and under their rules than here. Maybe you don't believe that we are fomenting sectarian violence in Iraq in hopes that we can "divide and conquer". Maybe you don't believe we could be so incompetent.
Maybe you still believe in America. I do. It's up to We the People to bring it back from the brink.

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