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A Nation of Fear

I’m a strong believer in speaking out–as many of you know from my articles, and as my friends have known from my work in civil rights, human rights and other causes of the First Amendment in public and in the various universities at which I have taught.

But I, and we all, face a new dilemma. The lawyer client privilege is almost gone, note the case of the lawyer defending some of the defendants in the original Trade Towers bombings, Lynne Stewart. She is now on trial for simply defending her clients and having answered a simple question at a press conference. She was asked how her client felt about violent resistance; she simply said that he felt it was legitimate. She only reported what he said in answer to an honest question from a reporter. She was then charged with aiding and abetting terrorism–and to this day, she is imprisoned. Fortunately, she has an excellent attorney, Michael Tigar; but there are others out there who do not have this quality of attorney and who have told they have no right to even see an attorney. Although some courts have told the US Government to provide attorney visits, etc.–the Justice Department has not obeyed the courts, but has appealed. During the appeal periods, the Justice Department and the White House have both put tremendous political and legal pressure on the judges to vote their way–to do away with the lawyer client privilege so that the government may continue, “creating trust and dependency” with the imprisoned persons.

What this means is that the government is trying to break the will of the persons, who have often not even been charged, indicted, or in any way had a prima facie case presented against them! Yes, this astounding, but it’s happening right under our noses every day of the week. It has happened in Chicago, in Buffalo, in Texas and in other parts of the country, and often we do not even know who has been picked up or what has happened to them. Earlier this week on NPR, on All Things Considered, David Cole, an attorney who teaches at Georgetown Law School of Law, brought this matter up and especially pointed to the case of Mr. Padilla, a U.S. citizen who is incarcerated without an attorney, who has no charges against him, who has no access to visitors and in many other ways his civil rights are being violated by Ashcroft and his gang–but there is nothing we can do about it because even the courts are in the hands of the Bush/Ashcroft gang these days. Thus, even all of you, may be “detained” for no good reason and kept locked up for who knows how long–Ashcroft and his minions aren’t saying, and they refuse to listen to judges who are trying to make them obey our laws and our Bill of Rights. Ashcroft hopes that by keeping people in prison, isolated and without advice from attorney, they may force a confession–real or invented; thus, getting a confession.

Add to these matters that Rumsfeld has now said there will be no review for his military courts and that those he deems to be enemy combatants, etc., will be represented by a JAG lawyer–which puts the defendant in even more jeopardy because he/she will not be allowed to retain an attorney of their own choice. The new problem may be one of linguistic/semantics with regard to who “enemy combatants” or “those assisting the enemy” are; this is scarier and scarier as Ashcroft and Rumsfeld are almost like a new type of supreme court unto themselves.

On the other hand, we know that a coerced confession will not hold up in court–IF THE JUDGE IS FAIR AND HONEST. But, suppose the judge is afraid of Ashcroft and his gang, or believes as they do, that they should be able to do whatever they wish in order to “protect the national security” (though this phrase is often bogus)–THEN WHAT.


This brings me to a situation of a friend of mine. He was recently invited to be interviewed on a radio station from a foreign power. He felt he would like to do it, but he had heard Mr.Cole’s comments the same day he had the invitation. Thus, he hesitated. He told me the nation was one of those against whom Bush had spoken unfavorably, even threateningly. He was upset because he was feeling that if he spoke on the air and said anything that Bush/Ashcroft didn’t like, they could say he was aiding and abetting an enemy, or a potential enemy and might just simply “detain him” and he’d face the Padilla dilemma. He was upset that Ashcroft and his ways had made him pause, to think about what he should do because of the tremendous fear Ashcroft/Bush have instilled in our nation.

He added that he didn’t have the money to fight the U.S. Government, nor did he want to spend time in prison for simply appearing on this radio station. He asked if I thought he was a coward; I told him no, that the threat was real and that I understood his dilemma. He was also worried because several U.S. intelligence agencies have hired former KGB and Mossad agents, who know or care little about our First Amendment rights and our basic freedoms. He pointed to Paul Krugman’s article in the NY Times, where he said that America and its loss of rights, was a “different country” after 9/11–now my friend was feeling this change in his life.

So there you have it; we’re in a hell of pickle.

My colleague, Elaine Cassel, who has her eyes carefully trained on the law and writes of these things in her blog page, made a good point to me, when discussing these matters, she said, “The problem is, we’re running out of courts and we’re running out of judges who will stand up and call these actions wrong and unlawful. Too many are in the pockets of the Bush administration or Ashcroft’s camp, so there are fewer and fewer place to turn, and you know what will happen if it ever gets to the Supreme Court!” I fear she is correct, so if you add what Cole said, what Tigar has been fighting and what vision Ms. Cassel shows–the road ahead is going to be difficult. So I understood my friend’s dilemma clearly.

But somehow, there is this little voice in the back of my head, in the back of my heart, that says, “Yes, that’s all true, but we must find a way–if we all put our heads together and work on this, we will find a way to defeat this evil wrongdoing–I don’t know how yet, or when, but that it will come–it always has and for some odd reason, I believe it will.” I told him this in a flush of optimism.

I don’t know exactly what he’ll do, but I share this with you (with his permission) because it is a serious matter that must be considered in this strange time. What would you do?

Sam Hamod is an expert on world affairs, especially the Arab and Muslim worlds, former editor of THIRD WORLD NEWS (in Wash, DC), a former professor at Princeton University, former Director of The National Islamic Center of Washington, DC, an advisor to the US State Department and author of ISLAM IN THE WORLD TODAY. He is the editor of, and may be reached at


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