It has been almost two years ago that I first wrote a comprehensive story on the USA Patriot Act. At that time, I warned that the Patriot Act could be construed to render nonviolent protest against government policy an act of terrorism. One example I used was a fax or e-mail campaign to Congressional representatives (or the White House, for that matter) that could lead to the allegation that the faxes or email had “crippled” the government office and interfered with its normal business. For utilizing tactics that in any way interfere with the government can be an act of terror. Another example was a peaceful protest that blocked a law enforcement vehicle–that could be an act of terror.
In the past couple of weeks, what I predicted has come to pass–and then some. We learned that the Justice Department started an investigation into anti-war protests led by the National Lawyer’s Guild at Drake University, in Des Moines, Iowa in November 2003. The FBI’s Joint Counter-Terrorism Task Force subpoenaed the records of the National Lawyer’s Guild, the student records of student organizers, and the surveillance tapes of campus security. Demonstrations at the federal courthouse, motions to quash by recipients of the subpoenas, and negative publicity led the government to withdraw the subpoenas. The U.S. Attorney changed his tune and said they were never after anti-war protestors, but were looking for leads into who might have tried to enter a National Guard facility in Des Moines. Aside from casting a pretty wide and chilling net for a would-be trespasser, the affidavits in support of the subpoenas were devoid of any mention of a trespassing incident. Asked to explain the discrepancy, the U.S. Attorney said the affidavit was deficient–not his story.
Shortly after the Drake story broke early in February, the government confirmed that Defense Intelligence Agency operatives had “infiltrated” a conference on Muslim Law at University of Texas-Austin, and that FBI agents were attending ACLU meetings in Texas. They were on the lookout, we were told, for people who might be espousing terrorist tactics. I think they were taking names of attendees so that they could open files on people who dared to think about Islam law, or dared to be a part of an organization that has been in the forefront of taking the Bush Administration’s despotism to federal courts.
When Secretary of Education Ron Paige referred to the National Education Association as a terrorist organization, he was parroting the Patriot Act. It was no slip of the tongue, but a calculated shot across the bow at people and organizations that speak out against a Bush policy. Paige later retracted the term, but not the substance of his charge. The NEA, he repeated over and over, has used “obstructionist and scare” tactics to defeat Bush’s No Child Left Behind law. That description is one of the ways in which the Patriot Act defines “terror.” In an op-ed in the Washington Post on Saturday, Paige lambasted all critics of the law, including state legislators who don’t want the damn federal money if it means letting Paige and his cronies tell them how to run their schools, as people willing to sacrifice “children” for political purposes. I found the op-ed alarming–for he went even further than just calling them terrorists. He accused them of wanting to harm children because they don’t agree with the Bush policy, driven by the desire to control each and every public classroom in the US (similar to Ashcroft wanting to control the body of every woman in the U.S.).
I could imagine all of the above, but what I read in the Saturday New York Times gave even me pause. The Treasury Department, which forbids doing “business” with countries (Iran, Cuba, Libya, Sudan, and North Korea, for instance) who are considered state sponsors of terrorism and are defined as our “enemies,” notified editors and publishers that if they change one comma, word, or syntactical element in a document that came from a person who lives in a “forbidden” country, they may be charged with “trading with the enemy,” a crime that carries a penalty of up to ten years in prison and a fine of $500,000. Presumably, an editor could not remove a comma from a story written by a born-again Christian Bush-ite any more than it could correct the pagination of a treatise by an al-Qaeda operative–if the writer was an Iranian national.
This regulation begs the question, “Are all citizens of all nations our enemy? Judge T.S. Ellis, Alexandria, Virginia federal district judge, alluded to this mindset of our government when he recently refused to sentence a former Bush Administration most-favored Muslim to two years in prison for carrying money into and out of Libya. Federal prosecutors wanted to put him away for at least ten years because he had “friends” whom the government alleged were “terrorists.” Aside having no proof that his friends were terrorists, the pro-Bush Ellis said, last he checked, it was not a crime to know a “terrorist” socially.
The Treasury Department is up to more mischief than I can keep up with. The Washington Post reported on Friday that the Treasury Department was freezing the assets of travel agencies who book trips to Cuba (you do realize, don’t you, that some travel to Cuba is legal? Tell that to Treasury), including the legitimate deposits of American citizens. And Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge ordered the Coast Guard to take over any ship, American or otherwise, traveling to Cuba. Cuba, you see, is a “terrorist” state. And if we travel to Cuba, we are supporting terror. A friend recently traveled to a Caribbean island and brought me back a CD of Cuban music. I have it displayed prominently in my office for Ashcroft to easily find. I am surely a terrorist for having Cuban music in my house and listening to it–even enjoying it, and my friend is a terrorist for buying it. (In a disgusting display of idiocy and bigotry, the State Department denied visas to Cuban musicians nominated for Grammy awards this year. Cuban Ibrahim Ferrer won the Grammy for Best Traditional Tropical Latin Album, putting the Grammy organization into the unenviable position of arguably supporting terrorism.)
So, what I predicted, and worse, is upon us, and I am not hearing much outrage about any of it. A yawn, a “what’s new,” a “does that surprise you, Cassel?” is about all I am getting when I rant and rave. No, it does not surprise me, it terrifies me. Four more years of Bush and I doubt that I will be writing or you will be reading these warnings. We will have been silenced. I wish I were exaggerating, but this past year has taught me that, if anything, my warnings have been too tame.
We have seen a despot, and he is occupying the White House. We have seen tyranny, and it is the Bush Administration. And yes, I am certain that, if there has been any doubt heretofore, now I am sure that I can be labeled a “terrorist” for saying it. And you, likely, are a terrorist for reading it.
ELAINE CASSEL practices law in Virginia and the District of Columbia, teachers law and psychology, and follows the Bush regime’s dismantling of the Constitution at Civil Liberties Watch. She can be reached at: email@example.com