As You Wave The Flag - Wave
Goodbye To Our Freedoms
By Harley Sorensen
Special to SF Gate

If you throw a frog into a pot of hot water, they say, he will jump out immediately. If you put that same frog into a pot of cold water and then turn on the heat, he'll stay there until he boils to death.
I have no idea whether that story is true, but it does make a point.
While we have little difficulty recognizing immediate threats, more subtle dangers often escape our attention.
A few weeks ago, Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed the grossly misnamed "USA Patriot Act of 2001." Some congressmen -- but not all -- read the act before they voted on it, according to published reports.
The "Patriot Act" is a direct result of the national panic and suspension of good judgment that has followed the events of Sept. 11. It is one of those subtle dangers that often escape our attention.
What is in it? Here are a few of the things Rep. Patsy T. Mink of Hawaii said about it in the House last month:
"[It] allows law enforcement agencies to wiretap and monitor Internet use whenever intelligence gathering constitutes a 'significant purpose' of the surveillance ...
"[It] does not include adequate safeguards to prevent the government from monitoring the communications of innocent people. Citizens may be monitored simply by using a pay phone frequented by terrorists. People may have the shadow of suspicion cast over them by calling a suspected terrorist. Guilt by association will take us back to the dark days of the baseless inflammatory accusations made by the House Un-American Activities Committee.
"[It] gives the Immigration and Naturalization Service unchecked ability to detain aliens for up to seven days without charges. If the Attorney General continues to detain an individual after seven days, the bill limits the suspect's ability to appeal the detention ...
"[It] allows grand jury and other sensitive information to be shared by other agencies ...
"Under [the Patriot Act], the government will define 'federal terrorism offense' as the intent to influence or affect the conduct of government by intimidation or coercion, or to retaliate against government conduct. This unclear definition may include groups such as Greenpeace along with the terrorists."
Mink's warnings fell on deaf ears. The USA Patriot Act of 2001 is now the law of the land.
It didn't take the federal Bureau of Prisons long to get into the spirit of the Patriot Act. On Oct. 31 it published a new rule that allows it to eavesdrop on conversations between federal prisoners and their attorneys.
All that is necessary for the feds to listen in on an attorney-client conversation is a "reasonable suspicion" that the conversation has a connection to "terrorist activity."
Osama bin Laden, the alleged culprit behind the events of Sept. 11, must be chuckling in his beard. Three bombs and the feckless Americans are willing to chuck 225 years of freedom.
How long before we decide the way to protect ourselves is to put hidden microphones in the confessional booth?
Since Sept. 11, in our search for as-yet-undiscovered terrorists, we have arrested more than 1,000 suspects. There is no reason to fault the police for their efforts; they seem to be doing a great job -- even though one wonders how they can find more than 1,000 suspicious people now after finding so few before Sept. 11.
From the scant information available about these 1,000-plus suspects, it appears they are being held on a variety of pretexts while effectively being denied bail or assistance of counsel.
The authorities are having trouble getting their suspects to talk, so now they're considering using truth serums, including sodium Pentothal, according to the Los Angeles Times.
And even Alan Dershowitz, as cranky a civil libertarian as you'll ever meet, has written (in the Los Angeles Times last Thursday) an essay outlining the procedures that might be taken to use torture to get unwilling suspects to talk.
Dershowitz, a Harvard law professor, uses the examples of a ticking bomb or a kidnap victim running out of oxygen to justify torture to get reluctant suspects to talk.
Are these common occurrences? When is the last time you heard of a bomb about to explode and the suspect in police custody refusing to say where it is? When is the last time you heard of a child imprisoned in a box with two hours of oxygen remaining ... and a suspect unwilling to talk?
Dershowitz does allow that, legal or not, the cops would torture to get the needed information in either case. Of course they would! But Dershowitz wants torture legalized. "If we are to have torture," he writes, "it should be authorized by law."
"Judges should have to issue a 'torture warrant' in each case," he adds.
And CNN reported Nov. 2 that the Justice Department is already intercepting mail and monitoring telephone conversations between suspected terrorists and their lawyers.
We've traveled a long way in the past two months. In what direction?

Harley Sorensen is a longtime journalist and iconoclast.
His column appears Mondays.
E-mail him at

©2001 SF Gate ts/sorensen/

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