Amputating the Bill of Rights

The Sixth Amendment was lopped off the Constitution earlier this week.

AG Ashcroft can now have you arrested — more accurately, abducted and detained — and thrown in a military brig or sent to the Guantanamo concentration camp. Like military dictators in Chile or Guatemala, or the Gestapo in Nazi Germany, the Bushites don’t have tell your family where you are, or even acknowledge your detention.

They can detain you for years, decades — or until Bush’s war on “terr’sim” is over — that is to say forever.

All of this is now perfectly legal — or so the Supreme Court ruled the other day when it refused to consider whether the government properly withheld names and other details of hundreds of people detained after 9/11. In other words, Bush may continue abducting people and throwing them in secret prisons without charge.

“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,” states the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution.

Thanks to the Supreme Court there’s now a big bloody hole in the Bill of Rights.

The First and Fourth Amendments are hanging precariously from the “living document” by threads. Give the Supreme Court time and they will hack those amendments away as well.

Recall Justice Sandra Day O’Connor predicting a few hours before the Supreme Court’s 2001-2002 session that Americans are “likely to experience more restrictions on our personal freedom than has ever been the case in our country.”

Bush will trump Abraham Lincoln when it comes down to stripping Americans of their civil liberties.

Lincoln had a habit of arresting people who disagreed with him during the Civil War. He threw them in military prison, sort of the way Jose Padilla was tossed in a military brig for the crime of searching the wrong thing on the internet (“dirty bomb”) and visiting the wrong country (Pakistan).

“President [Lincoln] suspended the writ of habeas corpus and subjected all persons discouraging volunteer enlistments to martial law,” writes author Jay Winik. “To enforce this decree, a network of provost marshals promptly imprisoned several hundred anti-war activists and draft resisters, including five newspaper editors, three judges, a number of doctors, lawyers, journalists and prominent civic leaders.”

Maybe Dubya will one-up Lincoln and imprison several hundred thousand — instead of several hundred — antiwar activists and draft resisters. Of course, thanks to the Supreme Court, Bush will not be required to tell their families and lawyers where they are. Maybe a whole lot of them will be deported as well after Patriot II is rushed through Congress like its predecessor.

This will occur during Bush’s second “term,” actually his first term since he was appointed by the Supreme Court on the first go-round. Howard Dean, Wesley Clark, John Kerry, Al Sharpton, Dick Gephardt, Joe Lieberman — none of these guys will make it to the White House, and even if one per chance does he will not do things a whole lot different than Junior. Remember, a “new Democrat” is basically “Republican Lite.”

As for Dennis Kucinich and Carol Mosely Braun… well, they may end up with the aforementioned antiwar activists in the hoosegow. Lincoln jailed “prominent civic leaders,” although none were members of Congress. Bush may best him yet. Anyway, sweating it out in prison sure beats following in the footsteps of Paul Wellstone.

Besides, AG Ashcroft had a point to make on December 6, 2001, when he admonished: “To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty … your tactics only aid terrorists, for they erode our national unity and … give ammunition to America’s enemies.”

In other words, we’re putting you on notice.

So Bill of Rights unfriendly is our New Caesar that he’s going after the First Amendment, considered by many the foundation of the Constitution.

Bush’s Secret Service march out ahead of Junior when he travels around the country. They get in touch with local cops and make sure those who disagree with the non-president are quarantined into “designated free speech zones” far away from the protest-adverse president and the media.

“Here’s a place where the people can be, and we’d like to have any protesters put in a place that is able to be secured,” the Secret Service told the Allegheny County Police Department when Bush visited the Pittsburgh area on Labor Day 2002. When Bush visited the St. Louis area on January 22, 2003, not only were protesters pushed far away from the president, but the media was prevented from talking with them.

In South Carolina, a protester was prosecuted by the Justice Department for possessing a sign — “No War for Oil” — in a crowd of people holding up pro-Bush signs. A policeman told the protester he was being arrested for the content of his sign. The protestor, Brett Bursey, was convicted of illegally protesting this month and fined $500. “He’s no hero for First Amendment free speech rights,” said the prosecutor after the verdict. “He’s a criminal.”

Most of us protesting last year against Bush’s illegal invasion of Iraq are criminals, too. Bush called us a “focus group,” but what he really meant to say is that he considers us criminals. Like Ashcroft said, if you disagree with Bush you aid terrorists. “You’re either with us or against us in the fight against terror.”

You see, the First Amendment pisses Bush off. His Christian soul has no tolerance for those who disagree with him.

After all, God talks to Dubya, he’s a chosen instrument. He informed the ersatz Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas: “God told me to strike at al-Qaeda and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did.”

Bush’s Methodism works in mysterious ways, as did the Methodism of Rutherford B. Hayes, another president who lost the popular vote and yet won the White House after a contested dispute over balloting in Florida.

Lot’s wife was reduced to a pillar of salt for disobeying God. One has to wonder if Bush beseeches his God, asking Him to turn disagreeable antiwar demonstrators into pillars of salt.

For now “free speech zones” will have to do.

Bush doesn’t cotton to demonstrators. For instance, according to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union in 1999 (Texas United Education Fund, Inc. vs. Bush) when Bush was governor of Texas he had protesters arrested and thrown in the pokey on more than one occasion for criticizing environmental legislation that served his own interests. “The rules have changed,” Bush averred when asked about his violations of the First Amendment and the freedom of speech and peaceful assembly.

Now he’s changing the rules again — and the highest court in the land refuses to take him to account for his deconstruction of the Bill of Rights.

Since Bush was coronated three years ago, he instructed Ashscroft to fiddle with the Freedom of Information Act; warned the media not to air tapes of Osama bin Laden; forced through the passage of Patriot I — wiretaps, indefinite detention, warrantless searches — and greased the skids for an even more draconian bill, Patriot II (it will not only allow secret arrests, but will strip citizenship from persons for their political associations); authorized snooping of attorney-client conversations; allowed the FBI to snoop on political groups not engaged in criminal activity (remember, the “rules have changed”); proffered Operation TIPS, or the Orwellian neighbor-spying-on-neighbor program; attempted to aggregate credit-card, travel, medical, school, and other records of everyone in the United States into the Total Information Awareness project (the brainchild of this supposedly abandoned exploit was former Iran-Contra criminal John Poindexter), and other laws, guidelines, and proposals designed to chip away at the Bill of Rights.

More recently, Bush and the Ministry of Homeland Security devised a plan to set up databases — containing bank records, credit ratings, and medical records — on every air passenger in the country. “We want these programs to be efficient to the extent it makes them more efficient to have them rolled together, we will be looking at that,” said Nuala O’Connor Kelly, the chief “privacy officer” for the Ministry of Homeland Security (note the oxymoron). In other words, since most Americans fly at one time or another, John Poindexter’s discredited program (see above) has come back in a different guise. You have to hand it to these Bushites for their dogged effort to convert America into a police and surveillance state.

Naturally, there will be lawsuits against all of this — that is, while lawsuits are still permitted — and in such cases the arch-conservative Supreme Court will likely come down on the side of their pothunter, the man they ushered into office, the man two of Antonin Scalia’s sons worked for as lawyers and Clarence Thomas’ wife helped out by collecting applications for people who wanted to work in the Bush administration. On May 11, 2003, while speaking before the Alaska Bar Association Convention, Scalia reflected on Bush’s Patriot act and society in general. Surveillance and quashing dissent is necessary, Scalia explained, because society is becoming more violent and irresponsible. Moreover, US citizens tend to believe the Constitution affords them more rights than it actually does, said Scalia.

Or, as Scalia told an audience at John Carroll University in March of last year, during wartime “protections will be ratcheted right down to the constitutional minimum.”

Because Dubya’s war is indeterminate, a “ratcheted right down” Bill of Rights will certainly become the norm. In distant future, will Constitutional liberty be as foreign to the people of America as democracy was to the people of Russia after nearly three generations of totalitarianism?

It would seem Bush and Scalia think so.

KURT NIMMO is a photographer and multimedia developer in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Visit his excellent no holds barred blog at . Nimmo is a contributor to Cockburn and St. Clair’s, The Politics of Anti-Semitism. A collection of his essays for CounterPunch, Another Day in the Empire, will soon be published by Dandelion Books.

He can be reached at:


KURT NIMMO is a photographer and multimedia developer in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Visit his excellent no holds barred blog at . Nimmo is a contributor to Cockburn and St. Clair’s, The Politics of Anti-Semitism. A collection of his essays for CounterPunch, Another Day in the Empire, is now available from Dandelion Books. He can be reached at: