On Freedom and Security: Why the Bush Administration Is 'Un-American' -- Part 1
By Al Gore
November 21, 2003
On November 9, 2003, Al Gore, spoke before a crowd of several thousand who came to hear him address an event co-sponsored by MoveOn.org and the American Constitution Society (www.acslaw.org).
| "For the first time in our history, American citizens have been seized by the executive branch of government and put in prison without being charged with a crime." And it could get worse.|
This is an edited version of the address. The entire speech is available at: www.moveon.org/gore/speech2.html
It seems to me that the logical place to start the discussion is with an accounting of exactly what has happened to civil liberties and security since the vicious attacks against America of September 11, 2001.
For the first time in our history, American citizens have been seized by the executive branch of government and put in prison without being charged with a crime, without having the right to a trial, without being able to see a lawyer, and without even being able to contact their families.
President Bush is claiming the unilateral right to do that to any American citizen he believes is an "enemy combatant." Those are the magic words. If the President alone decides that those two words accurately describe someone, then that person can be immediately locked up and held incommunicado for as long as the President wants, with no court having the right to determine whether the facts actually justify his imprisonment.
Now if the President makes a mistake, or is given faulty information by somebody working for him, and locks up the wrong person, then it's almost impossible for that person to prove his innocence -- because he can't talk to a lawyer or his family or anyone else and he doesn't even have the right to know what specific crime he is accused of committing. So a constitutional right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness that we used to think of in an old-fashioned way as "inalienable" can now be instantly stripped from any American by the President with no meaningful review by any other branch of government.
Now, if it wants to, the federal government has the right to monitor every website you go to on the internet, keep a list of everyone you send email to or receive email from and everyone who you call on the telephone or who calls you -- and they don't even have to show probable cause that you've done anything wrong. Nor do they ever have to report to any court on what they're doing with the information. Moreover, there are precious few safeguards to keep them from reading the content of all your email.
From 'Inalienable Rights' to 'Sneak and Peak' Raids
For America's first 212 years, it used to be that if the police wanted to search your house, they had to be able to convince an independent judge to give them a search warrant and then (with rare exceptions) they had to go bang on your door and yell, "Open up!" If they seized anything, they had to leave a list explaining what they had taken. That way, if it was all a terrible mistake (as it sometimes is) you could go and get your stuff back.
But that's all changed now. Starting two years ago, federal agents were given broad new statutory authority by the Patriot Act to "sneak and peak" in non-terrorism cases. They can secretly enter your home with no warning -- whether you are there or not -- and they can wait for months before telling you they were there. And it doesn't have to have any relationship to terrorism whatsoever. And the new law makes it very easy to get around the need for a traditional warrant -- simply by saying that searching your house might have some connection (even a remote one) to the investigation of some agent of a foreign power. Then they can go to another court, a secret court, that more or less has to give them a warrant whenever they ask.
Three weeks ago, President Bush went even further and formally proposed that the Attorney General be allowed to authorize subpoenas by administrative order, without the need for a warrant from any court.
Attorney General Ashcroft has issued regulations authorizing the secret monitoring of attorney-client conversations on his say-so alone.
The FBI now has the right to go into any library and ask for the records of everybody who has used the library and get a list of who is reading what. The FBI can demand all the records of banks, colleges, hotels, hospitals, credit-card companies, and many more kinds of companies. And just last week, Attorney General Ashcroft issued brand new guidelines permitting FBI agents to run credit checks and background checks and gather other information about anyone who is "of investigatory interest" -- meaning anyone the agent thinks is suspicious -- without any evidence of criminal behavior.
Giving Up Our Freedoms Will Not Make Us Safer
I want to challenge the Bush Administration's implicit assumption that we have to give up many of our traditional freedoms in order to be safe from terrorists.
It makes no more sense to launch an assault on our civil liberties as the best way to get at terrorists than it did to launch an invasion of Iraq as the best way to get at Osama Bin Laden. In both cases, the Administration has attacked the wrong target.
Bush's America: No Privacy for Citizens: Total Secrecy for Government
- In both cases they have recklessly put our country in grave and unnecessary danger, while avoiding and neglecting obvious and much more important challenges that would actually help to protect the country.
- In both cases, the administration has fostered false impressions and misled the nation with superficial, emotional and manipulative presentations that are not worthy of American Democracy.
- In both cases they have exploited public fears for partisan political gain and postured themselves as bold defenders of our country while actually weakening, not strengthening, America.
- In both cases, they have used unprecedented secrecy and deception in order to avoid accountability to the Congress, the Courts, the press and the people.
This Administration has turned the fundamental presumption of our democracy on its head. A government of and for the people is supposed to be generally open to public scrutiny by the people -- while the private information of the people themselves should be routinely protected from government intrusion.
But instead, this Administration is seeking to conduct its work in secret even as it demands broad unfettered access to personal information about American citizens. Under the rubric of protecting national security, they have obtained new powers to gather information from citizens and to keep it secret. Yet at the same time they themselves refuse to disclose information that is highly relevant to the war against terrorism.
They are even arrogantly refusing to provide information about 9/11 that is in their possession to the 9/11 Commission -- the lawful investigative body charged with examining not only the performance of the Bush Administration, but also the actions of the prior Administration in which I served.
Two days ago, the Commission was forced to issue a subpoena to the Pentagon, which has -- disgracefully -- put Secretary Rumsfeld's desire to avoid embarrassment ahead of the nation's need to learn how we can best avoid future terrorist attacks. The Commission also served notice that it will issue a subpoena to the White House if the President continues to withhold information essential to the investigation.
The White House is also refusing to respond to repeated bipartisan Congressional requests for information about 9/11 -- even though the Congress is simply exercising its Constitutional oversight authority.
Three days ago, the White House asked the Republican leadership of the Senate to shut down the Intelligence Committee's investigation of 9/11. Apparently the President is anxious to keep the Congress from seeing what are said to have been clear, strong and explicit warnings directly to him a few weeks before 9/11 that terrorists were planning to hijack commercial airliners and use them to attack us.
Astonishingly, the Republican Senate leadership quickly complied with the President's request. Such obedience and complicity in what looks like a cover-up from the majority party in a separate and supposedly co-equal branch of government makes it seem like a very long time ago when a Republican Attorney General and his deputy resigned rather than comply with an order to fire the special prosecutor investigating Richard Nixon.
Rule by Repression and Vengeance
In an even more brazen move, more than two years after they rounded up over 1,200 individuals of Arab descent, they still refuse to release the names of the individuals they detained, even though virtually every one of those arrested has been "cleared" by the FBI of any connection to terrorism and there is absolutely no national security justification for keeping the names secret.
Yet at the same time, White House officials themselves leaked the name of a CIA operative serving the country, in clear violation of the law, in an effort to get at her husband, who had angered them by disclosing that the President had relied on forged evidence in his state of the union address as part of his effort to convince the country that Saddam Hussein was on the verge of building nuclear weapons.
They have established a new exemption that enables them to refuse the release to the press and the public of important health, safety and environmental information submitted to the government by businesses -- merely by calling it "critical infrastructure."
By closely guarding information about their own behavior, they are dismantling a fundamental element of our system of checks and balances. Because so long as the government's actions are secret, they cannot be held accountable. A government for the people and by the people must be transparent to the people.
Bush Has Failed to Protect the 'Homeland'
The administration has seriously neglected most of the measures that it could have taken to really make our country safer. There is still no serious strategy for domestic security that protects critical infrastructure such as electric power lines, gas pipelines, nuclear facilities, ports, chemical plants and the like.
They're still not checking incoming cargo carriers for radiation. They're still skimping on protection of certain nuclear weapons storage facilities. They're still not hardening critical facilities that must never be soft targets for terrorists. They're still not investing in the translators and analysts we need to counter the growing terror threat. In many cases, fire and police still don't have the communications equipment to talk to each other.
Bush's Policies Threaten US Citizens not Foreign Terrorists
The constant violations of civil liberties promote the false impression that these violations are necessary in order to take every precaution against another terrorist attack. But the simple truth is that the vast majority of the violations have not benefited our security at all; to the contrary, they hurt our security.
And the treatment of immigrants was probably the worst example. This mass mistreatment actually hurt our security in a number of important ways.
More than 99% of the mostly Arab-background men who were rounded up had merely overstayed their visas or committed some other minor offense. But they were used as extras in the Administration's effort to give the impression that they had caught a large number of bad guys. And many of them were treated horribly and abusively.
The faith tradition I share with Ashcroft includes this teaching from Jesus: "whatsoever you do unto the least of these, you do unto me."
The disgraceful treatment suffered by many of these vulnerable immigrants at the hands of the administration has created deep resentments and hurt the cooperation desperately needed from immigrant communities in the US and from the Security Services of other countries.
These gross violations of their rights have seriously damaged US moral authority and goodwill around the world. And the handling of prisoners at Guantanomo has been particularly harmful to America's image. Even England and Australia have criticized our departure from international law and the Geneva Convention.
Continued: Please see "Why the Bush Administration Is Un-American" -- Part 2.
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