- Q: Just who is a terrorist?
- A: Anyone (non-U.S. citizen or U.S. citizen alike) Attorney
General Ashcroft designates as one.
- Q: On what evidence can Ashcroft designate someone as
- A: Mere suspicion and hearsay.
- Q: What legal rights and Constitutional protections does
someone detained on the grounds of being a suspected terrorist have?
- A: Next to none.
- It may be difficult for some hard-core, patriotic Americans
to believe the veracity of the preceding question and answer series, but
the answers to the questions are based upon the implications and dangerous
ramifications of the USA PATRIOT Act (USAPA) that was passed last October
by so-called congressional representatives who never bothered to even read
or debate it.
- It slipped through at the midnight hour under the cover
of darkness, voted on by men and women engulfed in a terrifying atmosphere
of shock, fear, mass media hysteria, and suspiciously targeted anthrax
- U.S. government officials would have us believe that
this 342-page, complexly nuanced document was allegedly crafted after September
11 in the time span of a little over a month. To accomplish this feat would
have required the in-depth study of fifteen other lengthy acts and statutes
which it modifies and amends.
- The act's extremely clever yet highly misleading acronym
USA PATRIOT, which stands for "Uniting and Strengthening America by
Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism,"
is an obvious attempt to intimidate and brand as "unpatriotic"
and treasonous anyone who might dare to question its alarmingly overreaching
- In light of the egregious evisceration of the Bill of
Rights that this law undertakes, those who blindly supported and signed
this blatantly unconstitutional act into law should be collectively condemned
and charged for high treason to the Constitution and the people of the
United States of America.
- Careful perusal of the USAPA reveals that it defiantly
and maliciously tramples on:
- The First Amendment - the people's right to exercise
freedom of religion, speech and peaceful assembly "to petition the
Government for a redress of grievances"
- The Fourth Amendment - the right "to be secure in
their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches
and seizures" whereby warrants - only to be issued upon "probable
cause" - must be specific as to place to be searched and persons or
things to be seized.
- The Fifth, Sixth and Fourteenth amendments - which outline
the right to due process - a trial by one's peers, to face one's accuser
as well as view the evidence against oneself, and to have an attorney.
- The Eighth Amendment - which safeguards the people against
excessive bale and fines, or cruel and unusual punishment.
- Under sections 411 and 802 in the USAPA, a terrorist
is loosely defined as anyone being "a representative of a foreign
terrorist organization, as designated by the Secretary of State,"
and domestically, anyone engaging in "activities that - involve acts
dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the
United States or of any state; APPEAR to be intended to intimidate or coerce
a civilian population; TO INFLUENCE THE POLICY OF A GOVERNMENT BY INTIMIDATION
OR COERCION..." [capitals mine]
- The inclusion of the word "appear" leaves interpretation
of the law wide open to subjectivity and personal whim, as anyone can rightfully
claim something "appears" to be intended for a particular purpose.
Note also that our first amendment right to gather in protest against what
we may see as unjust government policies could easily fall under the concept
of "influencing" government policy by "intimidation or coercion."
- Anyone participating in activist groups such as Greenpeace,
Earth Liberation Front, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or
in protests like the 1999 demonstration in Seattle against the WTO could
find himself suddenly stripped of his rights by the simple act of being
declared a "terrorist" in keeping with the definition of this
law. Under section 803 of this Act, even the simple act of giving food
or shelter to a friend who may have been involved in any of the aforementioned
activities could, in turn, have you incriminated and branded as a "terrorist"
- The USA Patriot Act absolutely shreds to bits the fourth
amendment. Section 213 permits so-called "sneak and peek" searches.
Translated, that means the government has the right to go into your home
while you are away, copy your hard drive, files, or whatever, gather and
take any information or items they please without ever serving you notice
since "the execution of a warrant may have adverse effect." They
can then delay serving you notice for up to 90 days after the fact. These
newfangled warrants can now be issued for a flimsy "reasonable cause,"
further undermining the much more difficult to achieve "probable cause"
stipulation of the fourth amendment.
- Sections 216, 217 and 218 allow for unrestricted wiretapping,
the tracing and spying on email messages and internet activities of anyone
anywhere in the USA without the need to obtain a court order as long as
"the information likely to be obtained... is relevant to an ongoing
criminal investigation." How nebulous can that get? A lawyer of any
worth would be able to argue the "relevance" of anything to an
unspecified "ongoing criminal investigation." Kiss your protection
from "unreasonable searches" good-bye and say hello to Big Brother
- If you think this law applies only to foreign nationals,
think again. JosÈ Padilla, although by no means a model U.S.-born
citizen, had his civil rights stripped from him this past May just by Ashcroft's
uttering the magic words, "enemy combatant" and "suspected
terrorist." To this day, no solid evidence has been produced to substantiate
Ashcroft's claims - neither bomb parts, nor bomb assembly instructions,
nor any plans or maps of intended strike areas.
- A "suspected terrorist," according to section
112, needs only to be "certified" by the Attorney General on
"reasonable grounds" that he "believes" someone to
be engaged in terrorist activities. Again, no solid evidence is required,
only a belief or suspicion suffices.
- Section 236A gives the Attorney General unprecedented
powers untouchable by any court, whereby he may detain a suspect in increments
of up to six months at a time if he believes the suspect's release would
threaten national security, or the safety of the community or any person.
"At the Attorney General's discretion" [read: personal whims],
"NO court shall have jurisdiction to review, by habeas corpus, petition,
or otherwise, any such action or decision." [capitals mine]
- In other words, the Attorney General's word is sacrosanct!
To give one man such grave and all-encompassing power over the fate of
any other individual is akin to what happens in fascist police states,
not in a free and openly democratic society.
- Whatever happened to one's right to face one's accuser,
to have a fair trial by one's peers, to be allowed to view the evidence
against oneself, or to have an attorney?
- Is it not cruel and unusual punishment to be denied your
civil rights, to be considered guilty until you can "prove yourself
innocent" - which is, in fact, very difficult to do - to be held in
prison on "secret evidence" for months or years on end with no
access to a lawyer and no chance of defending yourself against false and
- I heard President Bush on the news a few weeks ago boasting
that the U.S. has so far "captured and detained over 2,400 suspected
terrorists." Yet, by most accounts, most people being detained were
initially brought in on minor violations (which in a saner world would
not have resulted in incarceration), and have not had any terrorist-related
charges brought against them.
- To this day, it is my understanding that fewer than a
dozen have actually been connected to any terrorist activity. Is that what
a democracy does: imprison whole groups of people to catch the fewer than
1 percent who are actually committing criminal acts?
- The USA PATRIOT Act also includes under the "crimes
of terrorism" umbrella the destruction of property even if no one
is hurt (section 808), telemarketing fraud (section 1011), as well as any
kind of computer hacking (section 217). Under the rubric of "guilt
by association," this act also permits the denial of entry to and
even the imprisonment of "the spouse or child of an inadmissible alien"
who's been "designated" as a terrorist within the past five years
- The FBI can now legitimately demand access to anyone's
business, medical, student, bank, library or any other personal records
in order "to protect against ... clandestine intelligence activities."
(Sec. 501) The Associated Press reported on June 25 that the FBI has been
reviewing the library records of several hundred individuals in libraries
across the nation using a quick and largely secret process which is now
legal under the PATRIOT Act.
- Judith Krug, the American Library Association's director
for intellectual freedom, in a straight-forward statement is quoted as
saying, "... these records and information can be had with so little
reason or explanation. It's super secret, and anyone who wants to talk
about what the FBI did at their library faces prosecution. That has nothing
to do with patriotism."
- It seems we must now extend Ashcroft's warning about
watching what we say in public to include what we may read as well. It
is really not such a large leap to imagine our hyperparanoid government
beginning to imprison people suspected of "aiding and abetting the
enemy" based upon their "unpatriotic" ideologies and choice
of reading material.
- The USA PATRIOT Act creates and allows for a virtual
police state with little to no judicial oversight. We, as a nation, are
literally treading the razor's edge when it comes to flirting with the
grave dangers inherent in giving up our rights for the empty promises of
"safety" and "national security" masquerading under
the guise of a "patriotic" PATRIOT Act. Once we fall off that
edge, reclaiming and reinstating our rights, authority and power as "WE
THE PEOPLE" of this great nation might prove very difficult.
- The next obvious question is: just what can the average
person do? Across this nation, wise and enlightened individuals have been
forming groups to fight the injustices that the PATRIOT Act imposes on
us. Resolutions have been passed unanimously by city councils in Amherst,
Leverett, Northampton, Ann Arbor, Berkeley, Denver, and Cambridge. Other
cities and towns are in the process of preparing their own resolutions
and gathering signatures on petitions to protect our civil liberties against
the offenses of this Act.
- The Northampton Bill of Rights Defense Committee's website,
(www.gjf.org/NBORDC), offers a wide range of organizing tools, links, and
information about similar campaigns around the country to help you get
started in your own community.
- A rally in Boston this past June 22 kicked off a movement
in Massachusetts to gather 100,000 signatures to petition our Mass. congressional
delegates to introduce a bill that would call for the repeal or amendment
of those sections of the PATRIOT Act that stand in clear violation of our
constitutional rights. For more information or to get involved, you may
contact the ACLU of Massachusetts at 617-482-3170 x 314.
- At this critical juncture, to sit back and naÔvely
trust our government officials to protect anything other than maintaining
their own uncontested, ill-gotten power is to risk losing the very liberties,
rights, and freedoms our founding fathers fought so hard to procure for
each and every one of us.
- If we don't stand up for our rights, then who will? If
we don't demand the extension of these same rights to all people within
our borders, then we are nothing but accomplices in the hypocritical, haphazard,
and biased application of our nation's core principles of democracy and
- In closing admonition, I have taken the liberty of adding
a few lines to an excerpt taken from a sermon given in various times and
places by Martin Niemoller, 1892-1984, a Protestant pastor in Nazi Germany:
- They came for the "suspected" terrorists, and
I didn't object - For I wasn't a "suspected" terrorist; They
came for those of Middle Eastern descent, and I didn't object - For I wasn't
of Middle Eastern descent; They came for the unpatriotic, and I didn't
object - For I was not unpatriotic; They came for the dissenters and activists,
and I didn't object - For I wasn't a dissenter or an activist; "They
came for the Communists, and I didn't object - For I wasn't a Communist;
They came for the Socialists, and I didn't object - For I wasn't a Socialist;
They came for the labor leaders, and I didn't object - For I wasn't a labor
leader; They came for the Jews, and I didn't object - For I wasn't a Jew;
Then they came for me - And there was no one left to object."
- Addendum: For those who may be interested, the final
official version of the USA PATRIOT Act can be found at the following site:
- [Doreen Miller lived, studied, worked and traveled abroad
for several years, and is currently a Senior Lecturer and educator of international
students. She dedicates part of her time to serving the elderly and Alzheimer
patients. Mother, musician and poet, she pursues an avid interest in Buddhist
and Eastern philosophy. She advocates human rights, social justice, fair
trade, and environmental protection. Doreen lives in the United States.]
- Doreen Miller encourages your comments: dmiller@YellowTimes.org
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