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Who Gave Away Your Civil Liberties?

by Harry Browne

Many conservatives, liberals, and libertarians are protesting the numerous invasions of your liberty that Congress and the Bush administration have imposed during the past two months.

But without realizing it, many of the protestors brought these invasions on themselves.


I do share their concerns, however.

First, Congress rammed through an “anti-terrorism” bill that violates the civil liberties of all Americans, not just terrorists.

The new law allows federal officials to search your home when you’re not present and not even tell you your home has been searched. You could come home one day and find your computer, file cabinets, and legal papers have disappeared. You’d naturally think it was a burglary, but the burglars would be government employees (shades of Watergate).

Warrants can be issued in secret, and you may not be allowed to see a warrant – or contest it – covering a search of your property.

This is America?

Government officials can go into any company anywhere and search records of your purchases and credit history, discover the websites you’ve visited, or monitor your email–without evidence of a crime and without telling you, and they can order the companies not to tell you about the search.

Then the Bush administration, apparently invoking the divine right of kings, decided that people can be tried and executed by secret courts (using secret evidence not available for you to refute), that government agents can eavesdrop on attorney-client conversations, and that federal agents can conduct searches without judicial oversight.

This is America?

And understand that the so-called “War on Terrorism” is only two months old. This is just the beginning. What’s still to come? In previous wars, citizens were imprisoned for speaking out against the government, newspapers were closed for protesting the war, private publications were censored, and people of foreign ancestry were put in concentration camps. We have a lot to look forward to.


The press implies that the new civil-liberties invasions will apply only to terrorists.

Not true.

They apply to you, because anyone can be suspected of being a terrorist–including you. In fact, the new definition of “suspected terrorist” includes people speaking out against government policies.

And if law-enforcement officials are to decide whose civil liberties will be denied, one of them may become convinced you’re connected to the terrorists in some way, try you in a secret court, sentence you, imprison you, and even execute you–with no opportunity for you to appeal the verdict or your sentence.

This is America?

An administration official told The Washington Post, “The U.S. Constitution doesn’t protect . . . anyone hiding and planning acts of violence.” But what he meant was, “The U.S. Constitution doesn’t protect anyone we suspect of hiding and planning acts of violence.” They don’t know who’s actually guilty until after a civil, public trial–conducted with all the traditional rules of evidence. What they have arrogated to themselves is the power to decide whether or not you will be protected by the Constitution.

This is America?

If you’re not frightened by this, you’re simply not paying attention.


Have you been told that some of these invasions apply only to aliens–or some other small group of people?

Don’t be reassured. When has any invasion of liberty not been expanded to cover all people eventually?

The clearly unconstitutional RICO laws were supposed to apply only to organized crime–but hardly a single Mafia kingpin has been prosecuted using RICO, while abortion protestors and stockbrokers have been jailed by these laws. The clearly unconstitutional asset-forfeiture laws were only to nab big-time drug dealers, but all across America the property of innocent people has been seized.

It’s only a matter of time until every new oppression applies to all Americans.


I said that many of those protesting these invasions brought this on themselves. How? It’s very simple.

Attorney General John Ashcroft justified the unconstitutional police-state tactics by saying, “I think it’s important to understand that we are at war now.”

And there you have it. As Randolph Bourne said, “War is the health of the state.” Once you grant the government war-making powers, you grant the politicians the power to do anything they want. After all, you can’t put your own personal liberty ahead of the good of the Fatherland, can you?

Congress didn’t declare war. There were none of the usual pre-war negotiations to try to avoid going to war. We’re not even at war with any specific nation. But just utter the magic word “war” and all your rights can be stolen from you.

So if you hollered for war, you hollered to have your rights taken away from you.

Who gave your rights away? You did–if you supported the idea that the politicians should be free to do anything they want to satisfy a national lust for revenge.

Isn’t it time to start taking back your liberty?

Harry Browne ran for president as the Libertarian Party’s candidate in 2000. He is the director of the American Liberty Foundation.

Harry Browne lectures in Dublin Institute of Technology and is the author of The Frontman: Bono (In the Name of Power)., Twitter @harrybrowne

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