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Civil Liberties, Three Years After 9/11

The Other War

by ELAINE CASSEL

The hottest topics in the current presidential campaign are the Iraq war and the "war" on "terrorism". It is disappointing how glibly Kerry has adopted the Bush administration’s campaign against "terror" and has not critically examined its premise. Of course, to do so, would be political suicide. Any politician who speaks out against the war on terrorism and how it is a war on citizens and civil rights, will risk being called a terrorist or a traitor. Senator Russell Feingold, the only Senator to vote against the un-Patriotic Patriot act and one of the few who voting against the Iraq war, is fighting for his political life in Wisconsin.

The word "terrorism" is defined differently in hundreds of fed laws and regulations, depending on their contexts. The most expansive use of the term, for instance, is reserved for immigrants and resident aliens ­ those having green cards and student visas, for instance.

Terrorism is whatever the government wants it to be. It is a moving and mornping construct. It can justify the closing of streets at home, and the waging of war abroad. It encompasses peacefully demonstrating against George Bush at home, and speaking negatively against him abroad (I am referring to restrictions on Arab news media who are trying to report on Iraq). It is the excuse for declaring a war on civil liberties.

By war on civil liberties, I am referring to the erosion of the freedoms " embodied in the first ten amendments to the Constitution – known collectively as the Bill of Rights. Bush said that "they" "hate" ‘us" for our freedoms. Well "they" have much less to "hate" three years after Sep 11. Bush talks of spreading "liberty" abroad like butter or jelly. Well, we are scraping away "liberty" at home. It is something we are told we must do, in order to "preserve" freedom.

A radio interviewer made an interesting suggestion to me recently–should we call the Bill of Rights the Bill of Restrictions? I like that idea. Restrictions on government power. We could reframe them as not freedom of speech but freedom from government intrusion into speech, assembly. Not freedom to have an attorney represent us, but freedom from government eavesdropping on us and our attorneys and on limiting our right to counsel, as it has done in the case of hundreds of immigrants, hundreds of "enemy combatants," material witnesses, and Americans Yaser Hamdi and Jose Padilla.

We are supposed to have freedom from being arrested without probable cause or not being held to account for a crime unless indicted by a grand jury. We are supposed to be free from government denying us access to the witnesses against us. Evidence is supposed to be presented in open court and subject to cross examination and the scrutiny of the light of day. We are supposed to be free from inquisition by secret evidence. We are supposed to be free from bond being denied us while we await trial and free from cruel and unusual punishment. And by we, I mean not just American citizens, but aliens lawfully in this country. These guarantees have been violated thousands of times since September 11.

Hundreds and hundreds of peaceful demonstrators at the Republican National Convention were arrested and held for as long as three days before a judge dismissed the charges against them. They had committed no crime and further, were held long outside the time allowed by law. Mayor Bloomberg, taking a page from George Bush’s playbook, would do it all again, he said, proud that the liberties of Americans were sacrificed in the name of George Bush.

In my book I follow some of the more egregious examples of the government’s violation of its compact with we, the governed, embodied not just in the Bill of Rights but also in in federal laws and rules of procedure.

Much of what I wrote about was ongoing as the book went to press. I want to bring you up to date on some of the events I wrote about.
Not one conviction or plea gained by John Ashcroft in his prosecution of "terrorists" has been against anyone plotting anything against the United States. Most have been for non-terrorism crimes like lying on visa application or lying to prosecutors (which is why none of you should EVER talk to a prosecutor ­ you cannot in any way defend yourself, lest you be charged later with lying) or being involved with a Muslim charity that sends money, goods to countries we don’t like-regardless of whether relief goes to civilians or not.

The Detroit Cell convictions-the first jury convictions of people charged with supporting "terorrism" have been overturned, the FBI evidence having been deemed a fraud. Attorney Lynne Stewart has begun the defense of her case, the govt having rested last week by reading letters from her client, Sheik Abdel Rahmen, convicted in the 1993 WTC bombings. She should spend the rest of her life in prison, the government argues, because she represented a terrorist, appointed by the federal court to do so. They call her his "associate," not his lawyer. A frightening link that should, and does, give all brave attorneys who defend "terrorists", pause.

What is the government saying Stewart did? They say that in answering press questions about her client and, perhaps, impeding John Ashcroft’s efforts to record conversations between her and her client, a blind man in a prison in Minnesota, she was "providing personnel" ­her client and herself-for terrorism attacks. Ashcroft directed prison officials to tape record all communications with her client.

Ashcroft continues to besmirch the name of Steven Hatfield, the so-called "person of interest" in the anthrax scare of 2001. Last week, a federal judge hearing a suit Hatfield has bravely brought against Ashcroft said that the DOJ made him ashamed of the system. He ordered Ashcroft to either arrest Hatfield or cease libeling and slandering him. But Ashcroft does not obey federal court orders, holding himself above the law. On at least two occasions he personally spoke about the government’s case in the Detroit trials, blatantly violating Judge Rosen’s gag order on all attorneys. Tell your boss my orders refer to him, Rosen said to a prosecutor in the case.

Three young Muslim men, Northern Virginia residents and American citizens, are serving 85 to 100 years in prison for supporting, with their words, and with one visit to a foreign training camp, the Muslim cause in Kashmir. The three were part of what the govt referred to as the "Alexandria 11. Yes, the got 85 to 100 years for doing nothing. The trial took place in federal court in Alexandria. The buddies who testified against them in exchange for ten years in prison (better than 100, right) said, falsely, that when the guys played paintball they were "practicing" for battle. Better think twice before you schedule a paintball party for your kids’ birthday celebration. These men are giving their lives for a cause they talked about said they might someday participate in. The US is on the side of India in the battle between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. Endangering the Indian cause is terrorism. But wait, isn’t Pakistan our friend, too? Don’t ask. I have to emphasize, that there is no consistency in this madness.

Six young men in Buffalo, NY are serving 10-14 years in prison for journeying to Afghanistan on a religious trip prior to September 11 and lying about going. They were afraid to say they went–and the govt presumed from that they were plotting against American. Only, after they were convicted, the lead prosecutor said they were not a "cell." There was not evidence they were plotting anything, he said. Funny, he had no problem with presiding over their guilty pleas, extracted, by the prosecutor’s admission, under threat of banishment to Guantanamo as enemy combatants.

A young attorney in the Ashcroft Justice Department remains under investigation, unemployed and unemployable, because she blew the whistle on the DOJ and told a federal prosecutor and judge in Alex that the DOJ had not turned over all of its communications with FBI agents who interrogated John Walker Lindh in Afghanistan. She knew, because she is the one who told the FBI not to question Lindh as his parents and his lawyer had contact DOJ and wanted their son represented by counsel. The FBI ignored her and extracted confessions that led Lindh to plead guilty to conspiring against the US. He was doing nothing of the sort, but in this Alice in Wonderland world according to John Ashcroft and George Bush, innocence is guilt, lies are truth, and injustice masquerades as justice.

The Bush administration continues to disobey the law, flaunt federal judges’ orders, including those of the Supreme Court. Jose Padilla, an American charged with no crime, still is imprisoned in a Navy brig months after the Supreme Court dismissed his suit because filed in the wrong court. Once it was refiled the federal judge in South Caroline refused to expedite the case, no hurry he said.

Four months after arguing before the S Ct that American citizen Yaser Hamdi was so dangerous (though never charged with a crime) that he could not even see a lawyer or be out of solitary confinement, the government sent him to Saudi Arabia where his family lives. Originally the govt wanted Saudi Arabia to charge him with a crime (what? The govt demanded the same of Britain when it released four British men from Gitmo, but the British home secretary refused to press charges. They have done nothing wrong, he said), or keep him under some kind of house arrest or restrict his travel. Hamdi’s release was delayed for two weeks before the US finally let him go. Of course, we don’t know what kind of deal was struck behind the scenes. When held to account for three years of lawless imprisonment, the balance sheet came up zero.

But what is even more about the striking case is that Hamdi, charged with no crime was not only deported but also STRIPPED of his US citizenship,likely no great loss considering how he was treated by its laws.

Falls Church resident Ahmed Abu Ali remains in a Saudi prison, where Saudi police took him from a Saudi university classroom in June 2003. Federal prosecutors and FBI agents from Alex Va visited him personally and questioned him in connection with the Alexandria 11 prosecutions, while denying that they ever heard of him. You can be sure if he had any connection, they would have extradited him, as they did another man living in Saudi. Finally, forced to admit that he was in Saudi, Ashcroft and company said they had nothing to do with his detention. But the Saudis disagree. They said they are holding him because the Americans told them to. His family has sued in federal court in DC to gain the release of their son. The govt says it has nothing to do with the case ­ Saudi has him. The Saudis now say that the US is pressuring them to prosecute their son. For what, they don’t yet know.

The new Intelligence bill floating around the Congress now affirmatively calls for the US to ship immigrants to countries for the express purpose of being tortured. Don’t take my word for it. Go read the bill. Your congressmen likely are not.

The Transporation Security Administration has more than 10,000 "names" on a no fly list and you can’t know how you got on it and you can’t get off of it. The ACLU is suing the government in behalf of a couple who even the govt admits should not be on the list. But they won’t take them off.

The government wants you to believe that Cat Moonbeam Stevens is properly on the list. Accepting that premise, then, aren’t you appalled that the plane he was supposedly in danger of blowing up took off? How many "terrorists" whose names are or are not on the list are boarding planes? Speaking of Cat, though, don’t you love it that the plane was diverted from DC to Maine, presumably steering clear of Kennebunkport?

The government continues its ignorant campaign of telling you how safe you are while terrorists, like Cat Stevens (I mean that is their designation, not mine), board planes, intelligence sits collecting dust because the govt can’t seem to find Arabic translators (who, as you recall, must be card-carrying heterosexuals), and, by recent report, guns and explosives continue to make it through airport security. Billions of dollars in training can’t keep us safe. We know that. The government says more money and more restrictions will guarantee it

Besides, Ashcroft can read our email get our bank records. Don’t you feel safer?

I applaud the Congressman who shut down his office. If it as dangerous as the feds and DC and Capitol police are telling me, he says, then we ought to get out of this place. I don’t know whether or not he is serious or demonstrating the absurdity of the govt position. But if it is for the later reason, I applaud it. My 10 year old grandson commented as we were trying to get around the city this summer to do some sightseeing and faced fenced in monuments, closed streets, and cops with assault guns on the subway. Why don’t they tear down the monuments if we can’t visit them? What good are they, he said, this after our "tickets" to see the Washington Monument (did you know you need tickets and have to pay online with your credit card to have a shot at seeing the momuments-online ticket purchasers are given preference-you know where I am going with this) were cancelled three days before Ronald Reagan’s funeral. Try explaining that to a 10 year old. But, he said, our tickets being for Wednesday, the funeral isn’t until Friday? Speaking of all our thwarted efforts this summer, he said, why don’t they just shut down the city he said and send food and clothes to the people who have to live there? Even he felt the absurdity of the government’s position.

As we begin year four of the war on civil liberties, some Americans are a little more aware of what our government is doing to us, some congressmen and women are a little concerned, and a few judges are taking names and making notes. Hundreds of counties and cities, and a few states, have passed resolutions condemning the Patriot Act (which, by the way, is only the tip of the iceberg in the govt’s war on its people. Much has been blamed on the Patriot Act which has nothing to do with that law).

Would anything be different under a Kerry administration? I doubt it. I tend to agree with Nader that Kerry is, in terms of Bush and civil liberties, a distinction without much of a difference. I think he or anyone else that replaces Bush (someday) will appreciate the precedence of the Bush years that sanctioned an administration making up the rules as it goes along and ignoring the courts and the Congress. Who wouldn’t want that power? The founding fathers did not want the Bill of Rights, and fought its exclusion from the actual constitution. Refusal of some delegates to the Constitutional Convention to agree to sign the Constitution without some protection of people’s rights led to their adoption as amendments.<o:p></o:p>
Thanks to the lobbying of George Mason and others, the Bill of Rights became law.

But the Bill of Rights-or any other law-only has meaning if it is obeyed and enforced. In the past three years, Bush has demonstrated that an Administration can trample on the Bill of Rights with impunity. That is not a trend that we will see reversed in our lifetimes.

I believe, as I stated in my book, that the erosions of liberty and justice that masquerade as laws to protect us from terror, will serve any president’s powers. I don’t think any administration will want to give up the right to eavesdrop, spy on, and arrest Americans for wearing a T-shirt it does not like, or send FBI to law school symposia or community organizations interested in peace and the environment.

Kerry’s administration, if there is one, might not choose to act against its citizens but it won’t repeal the laws.

I don’t know much about history or political science. I am a lawyer committed to the rule of law administered with a good dose of compassion and a strong sense of injustice. It has been many many years since the country had a revolution committed to justice – the civil rights era, protests against the Vietnam war, but that was 40-50 years ago.

It’s time for a revival of those days, but that requires a change of heart in the country. We have to have a change of heart before we have a change of govt.

I hope our Nov 2 will be counted and counted accurately.

I doubt they will be for reasons too numerous to mention. But one bears particular notice:John Ashcroft is leading the charge to state and local voting officials to man the polls with law enforcement presence, something that every American ought to rise up and rail against. This directive and its execution is an act of terrorism aimed at non-Bush voters.

I hope that the only poll that counts ­ the 5-4 poll of justices on the Supreme Court ­ doesn’t decide this election.

I hope we rid our country of the evil of George Bush and John Ashcroft. But if we do, our work will begin in earnest to hold the new administration to the contract the govt has with us embodied in the constitution. It won’t be easy, because neither Republicans or Democrats are committed to civil liberties. And therein lies the heart of our dilemma, our challenge, as we look outside the ballot box.

ELAINE CASSEL practices law in Virginia and the District of Columbia, teaches law and psychology, and follows the Bush regime’s dismantling of the Constitution at Civil Liberties Watch. Her book, The War on Civil Liberties: How Bush and Ashcroft Have Dismantled the Bill of Rights, will be published by Lawrence Hill this summer. She can be reached at: ecassel1@cox.net