US Americans Lose Freedom of Speech

By CHARLES LEVENDOSKY

This file originally uploaded 2004-12-29

 

This article, published by The Star Tribune of Casper (Wyoming), tells how the Bush regime has effectively demolished several of the most basic rights set out in the nation’s constitution. If US prisons are becoming more like corporate versions of Stalinist gulags, freedom of speech seems to be going the same way as it did after Hitler’s Machtübernahme. This arcticle was reprinted in The Record (Kitchener, Ontario) on Thursday May 2, 2002.


The US Bill of Rights has become a casualty of the war on terrorism. In the name of national security, the Bush administration has hacked away at the rights of American citizens with an enthusiasm beyond anything experienced since the civil war.

The war on drugs gutted the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. In recent years, the U.S. Supreme Court has authorized searches based upon “reasonable suspicion,” a standard much lower than the amendment’s requirement of “probable cause.” The court even authorized random drug testing of groups of ordinary citizens without any particularized suspicion, as demanded by the Fourth Amendment.

The war on terrorism, however, has wielded a blunt axe against numerous significant liberties guaranteed by the constitution and Bill of Rights: freedom of speech, freedom of the press, access to public records, right to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures, right of privacy, due process of law, right to a public trial, and the right to have the meaningful assistance of counsel.

White House officials and U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft have made it clear that they consider protests against this war or questions about how it has been waged as giving “aid and comfort to the enemy”. They equate the time-honoured American tradition of questioning government officials with being a traitor.

In April, The Toronto Star reported instances of ordinary American citizens being interrogated by FBI agents about their criticism of the war on terrorism. The government aims, obviously to stifle protest.

A retired telephone company employee in San Francisco, Barry Reingold, was visited by FBI agents who questioned him about criticism he voiced while working out at his local health club. The agents filed a report on Reingold.

A freshman at Durham Tech in North Carolina had Secret Service agents knock at her door to ask her about “a report that you have un-American material in your apartment.” She has a poster on her wall opposing the death penalty in Texas.

FBI and Secret Service agents visited the Houston Art Car Museum in Texas because of its anti-war exhibit, entitled ‘Secret Wars.’

Meanwhile, the American press has been thwarted in its coverage of the war in Afghanistan. American reporters have been held at gun point by U.S. soldiers to stop them from doing their jobs. The media have been so corralled by the Pentagon that the public has received little live coverage of the war. Arguably, no U.S. war against another nation has received such a lack of reporting. What Americans know about the war in Afghanistan has been sanitized, massaged and dressed up by Pentagon censors. From the news coverage,one would be led to think no blood flowed during this war.

President George W Bush issued an executive order to close down presidential records that should have been released. Ashcroft sent a memorandum to all federal agencies requesting they limit access to public records if there is any question of national security concerns. Records that had been released before are suddenly restricted. The president recently gave the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services the authority to classify documents as secret. This department has never before had the authority to classify its material.

The Department of Justice has already jailed more than 1,500 Muslims or Arabs as potential terrorists and kept their locations secret and the hearings against them secret. Most of them are not American citizens. The number of those detained could rise to 5,000. To date, only two dozen of the detainees have been arrested for anything. They were arrested for immigration law violations or minor violations of the law having nothing at all to do with terrorism.

In March, a New Jersey state judge ruled that the government must release the names of hundreds of detainees in New Jersey jails. Judge Arthur N. D’llalia called secret detentions “odious to a democratic society”.

On April 18, the US. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals rebuked the Justice Department for keeping documents concerning Rabih Haddad, a detainee, secret and ordered it to release the papers. The department had claimed in court the release of the documents would cause “severe and irreparable harm” to national security but backed down on that statement and released them on April 19. The same day of the appellate court order, the Department of Justice issued a directive that prohibits state and local governmentsfrom releasing the names of detainees held in the investigation of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Once again, the claim is national security. One could say, justifiably, that the Justice Department is attempting to codify a right to arrest and detain people in secret. Under constitutional law, it has no such right.

In early April, Ashcroft announced that the Justice Department would begin monitoring conversations between imprisoned Sheik Omar Abdel-Raliman and his attorney without a warrant, as required by the constitution. Nothing can kill an effective defence more quickly than the prosecution knowing what the defence strategy will be. Assistance of counsel, as required by the Sixth Amendment,is rendered meaningless and ineffective.

Less than a month later, Abdel-Rahman’s criminal defence attorney Lynne Stewart, was arrested, accused of violating prohibitions on Abdel-Rahman’s contact with the news media. She is also accused of making a false statement about the quality of medical care her client received in January 2001. These accusations against Stewart are actually meant as a threat to any attorneys who might step forward to defend those who are charged with terrorist acts or activities.

The FBI is developing or already has — it won’t reveal any details, not even to members of Congress a software program that can install a surveillance program in anyone’s computer without physically touching the computer. The FBI calls the technology “Magic Lantern.” Magically installed from a remote computer, the program will shine a light on a person’s keystrokes, passwords, e-mail and encrypted documents. The program acts without the owner of the computer knowing of its presence. Some news reports indicate that the program could be distributed widely through the Internet, which would circumvent the requirement for a warrant to search through computer records.

The list of assaults on Americans’ liberties grows each day Thus, each day they grow further away from their ideals as a free people. By their actions, Americans give their enemies the comfort of realizing that they are right, freedom and the rule of law have no place in the world.

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