Are You a Patriot or a Terrorist?
The "Death Star" is fully operational. It's been more than a month since the September 11 (9/11) attacks. When the wind blows your way in lower Manhattan you can still smell the putrid mix of concrete dust and corpses. As the rubble continues to smoke at ground zero, US bombs have started dropping on Afghanistan.
Civilian casualties in Afghanistan are estimated by international sources to range between several dozen to upward of 200. With a press blackout imposed by the Bush administration, accurate information is difficult to access. Americans may not have to live with a rain of cluster bombs in a relentless, round the clock bombing campaign but what Americans will have to live with is the rapid intensification of our own police state. Although Osama bin Laden has been portrayed as the terrorist poster boy of the century, the question we need to ask isn't simply who did this, but rather who benefits from these attacks?
As traumatized people and a shocked nation attempt to comprehend and recover from the terrorist attacks of 9/11, in New York and Washington, DC—the Bush administration shows no sign of hesitation or doubt as it takes full political advantage of these stunning developments to ram its agenda through Congress.
Provide Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (PATRIOT) a.k.a. The Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001
This proposed legislation is consistent with the decades-long pattern of militarizing domestic policing and crushing internal unrest.
The libertarian CATO Institute harshly criticized the Anti-Terrorist Act, saying, "Everything that terrorists do is already illegal. Current laws already provide ample authority for investigations of potential terrorists. The sensational threat of terrorism should not be used as a pretext for stripping fundamental freedoms from the American people. Public safety in the long run is best protected by vigorous enforcement of the Constitution, not by giving more power to federal agencies that abuse the powers they already have."
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) criticizes provisions of the bill that should be carefully reviewed for "their due process and privacy implications" including proposals to eliminate the statute of limitations in terrorism offenses as well as increasing all terrorism penalties to possible life sentences. The bill also seeks to expand Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO), which worries the ACLU. The RICO statute is broad and creates First Amendment concerns by prosecuting people on the basis of guilt by association.
As usual, the media is playing the role of cheerleader for state propaganda. Bush himself has introduced an information blackout on upcoming military operations. On September 27, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) issued an alert "Nightly News Glosses Over Anti-Terrorism Act." The report states that "despite the magnitude of the changes the bill proposes, a search of the Nexis database of news transcripts shows that neither CBS Evening News nor NBC Nightly News has aired a single report exploring the legislation's potential impact. ABC World News Tonight has aired one report, going so far as to state as fact the idea that security concerns will necessitate a loss of civil liberties. Introducing a related report about the newly established Office of Homeland Security, anchor Tom Brokaw said that the office's name "sounds like something out of a totalitarian regime," but nonetheless "the attacks proved that something in America has to change." NBC's Andrea Mitchell went on to report that "no one really knows how much authority the new security czar will really have"—suggesting that to stay safe, Americans must surrender liberties without even pausing to ask which ones."
Threats to Direct Action Movements
A statement made before the House Judiciary Committee by Rachel King, legislative counsel to the ACLU on the Anti-terrorism Act of 2001, identifies "significant civil liberties problems. It is our strong belief that other provisions go far beyond addressing the events of 9/11."
Of great concern to direct action movements is that "the definition of terrorism under current law is already broad enough to include certain acts of civil disobedience. This bill would expand the already broad definition. For example, people involved in the demonstrations at the World Bank or protesting the bombing missions near Vieques Island, may fall within the definition of terrorism," according to King.
King offered the following hypothetical situation—that a college student could be charged under the federal terrorism statute for damaging a federal building during a demonstration by breaking a window. The government would be authorized to obtain a sample of the person's DNA, eliminate the statute of limitations, release secret grand jury evidence to military, intelligence or immigration authorities, use RICO to investigate anyone who has ever attended a meeting with the defendant, or sentence the person to life in prison.
PATRIOT descriptions of terrorism include minor property destruction, with a protester receiving a sentence of life in prison. Eric Sterling, president of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, says, "Even kids carrying Boy Scout knives who vandalize traffic signs can be labeled terrorists." Any use or threat to use a weapon against person or property "other than for mere personal monetary gain" would constitute terrorism.
As proposed, PA'I'RIOT would allow prosecution of people who "support" the activities of "terrorist organizations," even if those organizations were not considered "terrorist" when the support was given. For example, a legal alien could be deported today for having lawfully contributed in the past to an organization such as the African National Congress, which used both military and nonviolent tactics. That means a financial donation to your favorite campaign could be considered "support" for terrorists.
Roving Wiretaps and Electronic Surveillance
Law enforcement officials would be able to track the addresses of email messages sent and received by "suspected terrorists" without a search warrant, as they can now obtain telephone numbers called by suspects. The Anti-Terrorism Act would also make it easier for the government to seize educational records.
Officials would be able to obtain a court order to wiretap the telephone of a specific suspect rather than just a specific telephone, eliminating the need to get new wiretap authority each time a "suspect" changes telephones, pay phones, friends' houses, etc. Attorney General John Ashcroft wants Congress to let police use wiretaps more freely, arrest and deport people without warrants or hearings. Allowing the seizure of email and voicemail would encourage greater cooperation between the CIA and FBI, possibly leading to CIA operations inside the US, which is currently barred under US law.
Other provisions that worry the ACLU include "Sneak and Peak" searches. This means that the government could enter your house or office with a search warrant when you are away, conduct a search, seize or copy things such as your computer hard drive and not tell you until months later. According to King, ACLU is [concerned because] "The Administration is not seeking this power for the limited purpose of investigating serious crimes of terrorism, but is asking to expand it to every single search warrant for any criminal case."
Expanding the DNA Database
Speaking of unreasonable searches and seizures, the federal government will be able to raid your body for "evidence" as well. The ACLU points out that "there are no provisions for destroying DNA samples once they are no longer needed, which means that the government will have access to highly personal information that is unrelated to criminal investigations."
Once again, King stresses, "The above listed provisions are not necessary to prosecute serious cases of terrorism because the law already covers those cases. Where these provisions will be applied is in the less serious cases that are prosecuted under the terrorism statute."
"Under current law, information obtained during a grand jury is secret and only disclosed in limited circumstances to attorneys and law enforcement officers working on the case," said King, adding that "our country has long prohibited the military from investigating civilian criminal cases." Sharing information from criminal cases with intelligence, military and immigration authorities blurs the functions of the various organizations and risks violating the constitutional principle of keeping the military out of civilian law enforcement. Many persons investigated by the grand jury are not indicted. Keeping the proceedings secret safeguards reputations from being damaged by unfounded accusations.
According to King, another alarming section of PATRIOT "would make the crime of attempted terrorism or conspiracy to commit terrorism punishable to the same degree as the underlying offense of terrorism. One could also interpret this provision as a back-door attempt to expand the death penalty." King continued, "Another reading of this provision would require anyone convicted of attempt or conspiracy to be punished as if he or she had completed the offense. This expansion could create some very unjust results. Conspiracy law casts a very broad net entangling people who often have a tangential connection to the crime.
The new anti-terrorist laws also give the government broad authority to seize the property of someone accused of a crime before proving guilt. The change would not just to "terrorists" but also to routine criminal cases.
Conservative Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Conner was quoted in the New York Times, saying that Americans must be willing to "give up" some personal freedoms "to feel safer." If the US Constitution is the only built-in safeguard our nation has against a military dictatorship, then O'Conner's quote is bad news, since it is the Supreme Court that decides what is "constitutional" and what is not. Because we cannot count on the Supreme Court to uphold even our most fundamental constitutional rights, our energies as a direct action movement must be directed toward setting off pubic alarms despite this climate of active fear mongering."
In addition to murders, beatings, death threats and other intimidation of Arab and non-white people since the 9/11 attacks, the new laws would allow racial profiling that allows the government to "profile and track the latest "suspect" population. A modern technological version of the Japanese internment camps of the 1940s, such "profiling" can easily be applied to "suspect" activists for similar ends. Anti-globalization activists often encounter such profiling when attempting to cross borders to attend mass demonstrations. African Americans have encountered racial profiling regularly as it is a widely used policing tool in the drug war.
The war on drugs has also nurtured a militarized domestic policing approach which is quite consistent and compatible with the mandates of the Anti-Terrorism Act as well as the "Homeland Defense' initiative. The war on drugs "has allowed police to work with National Guard units, helicopters and automatic weapons," according to Seattle National Lawyers Guild attorney Paul Richmond. As with the drug war, "anti-terrorism" will be the catchall phrase to justify and perpetuate the military prison industrial surveillance complex.
Many of us on the frontlines of ecodefense have long suffered gross federal harassment, incarceration and violence. We may be able to find more sympathy, support and allies in the ranks of liberals and moderates who now find that they too are awash in a tidal wave of political repression. The events of 9/11 were horrifying, especially to those closest to ground zero, but we cannot be slowed down by shock or confusion as the state has become much more defennsive, and indeed, offensive. Remember the words of wobbly organizer Joe Hill just prior to his execution, "Don't mourn, organize."
We've had a police state ever since the slaughter of 20 million Natives in the Americas. "The only thing different, the only thing new," as Patsy Cline sang is that they are codifying and legalizing a full blueprint for an overt military government.
To get in touch with the author, email her at email@example.com.
© Earth First! Journal November-December 2001
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