On Freedom and Security: Why the Bush Administration Is 'Un-American' -- Part 2
By Al Gore
November 21, 2003
Bush Has Invoked the Polices of George Orwell's 'Big Brother'
There is yet another reason for urgency in stopping what this administration is doing. Where Civil Liberties are concerned, they have taken us much farther down the road toward an intrusive, "Big Brother"-style government -- toward the dangers prophesized by George Orwell in his book "1984" -- than anyone ever thought would be possible in the United States of America.
| Is this the face of a terrorist? John Ashcroft wants you to think so. Al Gore castigates the Bush administration for targeting Greenpeace and threatening every citizen's First Amendment right to protest.|
And they have done it primarily by heightening and exploiting public anxieties and apprehensions. Rather than leading with a call to courage, this Administration has chosen to lead us by inciting fear.
Almost 80 years ago, Justice Louis Brandeis wrote "Those who won our independence by revolution were not cowards.... They did not exalt order at the cost of liberty." Those who won our independence, Brandeis asserted, understood that "courage [is] the secret of liberty" and "fear [only] breeds repression."
Rather than defending our freedoms, this Administration has sought to abandon them. Rather than accepting our traditions of openness and accountability, this Administration has opted to rule by secrecy and unquestioned authority. Instead, its assaults on our core democratic principles have only left us less free and less secure.
Throughout American history, what we now call Civil Liberties have often been abused and limited during times of war and perceived threats to security. The best known instances include:
But in each of these cases, the nation has recovered its equilibrium when the war ended. There are reasons for concern this time around that what we are experiencing may no longer be the first half of a recurring cycle but rather, the beginning of something new.
- the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798-1800,
- the brief suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War,
- the extreme abuses during World War I,
- the notorious Red Scare and Palmer Raids immediately after the war,
- the shameful internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II,
- and the excesses of the FBI and CIA during the Vietnam War and social turmoil of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Bush's Vision of America: A Permanent Police State
This "war" is predicted by the administration to "last for the rest of our lives" -- a more or less permanent struggle that occupies a significant part of our law enforcement and security agenda from now on. If that is the case, then when -- if ever -- does this encroachment on our freedoms die a natural death?
The loss of civil liberties by individuals and the aggregation of too much unchecked power in the executive go hand in hand.
A second reason to worry that what we are witnessing is a discontinuity and not another turn of the recurring cycle is that the new technologies of surveillance -- long anticipated by novelists like Orwell and other prophets of the "Police State" -- are now more widespread than they have ever been. And they have the potential for shifting the balance of power between the apparatus of the state and the freedom of the individual in ways both subtle and profound.
These technologies are being widely used not only by the government but also by corporations and other private entities. And that is relevant to an assessment of the new requirements in the Patriot Act for so many corporations to prepare millions of reports annually for the government on suspicious activities by their customers.
The Assumption of Authoritarian Powers
President Bush has stretched this new practical imperative beyond what is healthy for our democracy. Indeed, one of the ways he has tried to maximize his power within the American system has been by constantly emphasizing his role as Commander-in-Chief, far more than any previous President -- assuming it as often and as visibly as he can, and bringing it into the domestic arena and conflating it with his other roles: as head of government and head of state -- and especially with his political role as head of the Republican Party.
Indeed, the most worrisome new factor, in my view, is the aggressive ideological approach of the current administration, which seems determined to use fear as a political tool to consolidate its power and to escape any accountability. Just as unilateralism and dominance are the guiding principles of their disastrous approach to international relations, they are also the guiding impulses of the administration's approach to domestic politics. They are impatient with any obstacles to their use of power at home -- whether from Congress, the Courts, the press, or the rule of law.
Criminalizing Greenpeace and Unleashing Polluters
Ashcroft has authorized FBI agents to attend church meetings, rallies, political meetings and any other citizen activity open to the public simply on the agents' own initiative, reversing a decades old policy that required justification to supervisors that such infiltrations has a provable connection to a legitimate investigation;
They have even taken steps that seem to be clearly aimed at stifling dissent. The Bush Justice Department has recently begun a highly disturbing criminal prosecution of Greenpeace because of a non-violent direct action protest against what Greenpeace claimed was the illegal importation of endangered mahogany. Independent legal experts and historians have said that the prosecution -- under an obscure and bizarre 1872 law against "sailor-mongering" -- appears to be aimed at inhibiting Greenpeace's First Amendment activities.
And at the same time they are breaking new ground by prosecuting Greenpeace, the Bush Administration announced just a few days ago that it is dropping the investigations of 50 power plants for violating the Clean Air Act -- a move that Sen. Chuck Schumer said, "basically announced to the power industry that it can now pollute with impunity."
The politicization of law enforcement in this administration is part of their larger agenda to roll back the changes in government policy brought about by the New Deal and the Progressive Movement. They are cutting back on Civil Rights enforcement, Women's Rights, progressive taxation, the estate tax, access to the courts, Medicare, and much more.
Propagandizing the 'War on Terrorism' for Political Advantage
Instead of trying to make the "War on Terrorism" a bipartisan cause, the Bush White House has consistently tried to exploit it for partisan advantage. The President goes to war verbally against terrorists in virtually every campaign speech and fundraising dinner. It is his main political theme.
When the Republican leader in the House of Representatives, Tom DeLay, was embroiled in an effort to pick up more congressional seats in Texas by forcing a highly unusual redistricting vote in the state senate, he was able to track down Democratic legislators who fled the state to prevent a quorum (and thus prevent the vote) by enlisting the help of President Bush's new Department of Homeland Security, as many as 13 employees of the Federal Aviation Administration who conducted an eight-hour search, and at least one FBI agent (though several other agents who were asked to help refused to do so.)
By locating the Democrats with the technology put in place for tracking terrorists, the Republicans were able to succeed in focusing public pressure on the weakest of the Senators and forced passage of their new political redistricting plan. Now, thanks in part to the efforts of three different federal agencies, Bush and DeLay are celebrating the gain of up to seven new Republican congressional seats in the next Congress.
White House political advisor Karl Rove advised Republican candidates that their best political strategy was to "run on the war." And as soon as the troops began to mobilize, the Republican National Committee distributed yard signs throughout America saying, "I support President Bush and the troops" --as if they were one and the same.
This persistent effort to politicize the war in Iraq and the war against terrorism for partisan advantage is deeply antithetical to the American spirit. Our founders knew -- and our history has proven -- that freedom is best guaranteed by a separation of powers into co-equal branches of government within a system of checks and balances -- to prevent the unhealthy concentration of too much power in the hands of any one person or group.
Incredibly, this Administration has attempted to compromise the most precious rights that America has stood for all over the world for more than 200 years: due process, equal treatment under the law, the dignity of the individual, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, freedom from promiscuous government surveillance.
The Specter of the 'Imperial Presidency'
And in the name of security, this Administration has attempted to relegate the Congress and the Courts to the sidelines and replace our democratic system of checks and balances with an unaccountable Executive. And all the while, it has constantly angled for new ways to exploit the sense of crisis for partisan gain and political dominance.
How dare they!
During World War II, Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson wrote that the President should be given the "widest latitude" in wartime, but he warned against the "loose and irresponsible invocation of war as an excuse for discharging the Executive Branch from the rules of law that govern our Republic in times of peace."
Jackson warned: "No penance would ever expiate the sin against free government of holding that a President can escape control of executive powers by law through assuming his military role. Our system demands that government act only on the basis of measures that have been the subject of open and thoughtful debate in Congress and among the American people, and that invasions of the liberty or equal dignity of any individual are subject to review by courts which are open to those affected and independent of the government which is curtailing their freedom."
So What Should Be Done?
To begin with, our country ought to find a way to immediately stop its policy of indefinitely detaining American citizens without charges and without a judicial determination that their detention is proper. Such conduct is incompatible with American traditions and values, with sacred principles of due process of law and separation of powers.
The principles of liberty and the accountability of government, at the heart of what makes America unique, require no less. The Bush Administration's treatment of American citizens it calls "enemy combatants" is nothing short of un-American.
Second, foreign citizens held in Guantanamo should be given hearings to determine their status under Article V of the Geneva Convention, a hearing that the US has given those captured in every war until this one. If we don't provide this, how can we expect American soldiers captured overseas to be treated with equal respect?
Third, the President should seek congressional authorization for the military commissions he says he intends to use instead of civilian courts. Military commissions present unique dangers. The prosecutor and the judge both work for the same man, the President. Such commissions must be authorized by Congress, as they were in World War II, and Congress must delineate the scope of their authority. Review of their decisions must be available in a civilian court, at least the Supreme Court, as it was in World War II.
Noncitizens who the government seeks to detain should be entitled to some basic rights. The administration must stop abusing the material witness statute as a pretext for indefinite detention without charge. That is simply not right.
The PATRIOT Act Must Be Repealed
I believe the PATRIOT Act has turned out to be, on balance, a terrible mistake. It became a kind of Tonkin Gulf Resolution conferring Congress' blessing for this President's assault on civil liberties. Therefore, I believe strongly that the few good features of this law should be passed again in a new, smaller law -- but that the PATRIOT Act must be repealed.
What is at stake today is that defining principle of our nation, and thus the very nature of America. As the Supreme Court has written, "Our Constitution is a covenant running from the first generation of Americans to us and then to future generations." The Constitution includes no wartime exception, though its Framers knew well the reality of war.
The question before us could be of no greater moment: will we continue to live as a people under the rule of law as embodied in our Constitution? Or will we fail future generations, by leaving them a Constitution far diminished from the charter of liberty we have inherited from our forebears? Our choice is clear.
Go back to "Why the Bush Administration Is Un-American" -- Part 1.
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