• Enemies of the Constitution]
    Terrorizing the country from the inside

    by [ Rose ]

    “We are a strong nation. We cannot allow ourselves to be scared into suspending the Constitution. If we do that, we might as well call the terrorists and tell them that they have won,” Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee and Representative Silvestre Reyes (D-TX) once said.

    Our rights cannot be whisked away, regardless of the circumstances. For several years the American public has been unaware of the Bush administration’s activities that go on behind closed doors. The government has kept secrets from the people and blatantly placed itself above the law. Perhaps these politicians need to review the Constitution again...

    There was a time when our government was of the people, by the people, for the people—but not anymore. Many years ago, Franklin D. Roosevelt issued programs with the sole purpose to help the American people during the Depression. Today, politics revolves around greed as old white men attempt to dictate our lives. This change in the White House’s policy did not occur until the realization of the Sept. 11 attacks.

    Even as a fifth grader during the attacks I could see how the country united in a desperate time of need. Even as an eighth grader I could recognize the trouble our country was getting into. And even as a tenth grader I could comprehend the severity of the war. But it was not until the eleventh grade when I finally understood the consequences of President Bush’s actions that we will undoubtedly face.

    As I’ve matured, I’ve watched the news, developed my own beliefs, and kept myself informed because too often we overlook things—just as the majority of American citizens are unaware of their rights being taken away.

    History always repeats itself, as our history teachers warn us. Characteristics of totalitarian dictatorships are beginning to appear within our government; checks and balances hardly exist, freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution are suppressed, politicians believe they are higher than the law’s reach, and this country will suffer if something is not done to correct these attitudes.

    Patriot Act
    Approximately a month and a half after Sept. 11, 2001, President Bush signed the Patriot Act, a piece of legislation that grants power to the government to violate several of our Constitutionally guaranteed rights—the same rights too many people take for granted. With the Patriot Act, we, as Americans, can be arrested for dissent of the government’s decisions, can be investigated with no probable cause, and monitored because of our freedom of expression.

    Section 215 of the Patriot Act allows the FBI to order any person to hand over any tangible items and spy on citizens and permanent residents in the United States without showing any reasonable grounds to believe that the person whose records are being investigated is a terrorist, much less a criminal at all. The government can simply spy on a person because they do not like the web sites she visits or the books she reads.

    Those who are subjects of surveillance are never notified that their privacy was compromised.

    The President’s use of scare tactics is well known. He often declares over-the-top statements to convince us to help him in his search for the terrorists. He claims that those who do not support the war then do not support the troops, and are un-American. In his eyes, if we are not with him, then we are against him. These scare tactics should have no place in Washington. Unfortunately, they are a part of history and will continue to do so under our President.

    “I would have to say the scare tactics are probably acceptable during times of war because the population’s a little more careful about what they say,” Junior Kathleen Morrison said. “During World War II, the ‘loose lips sink ships’ was an example of this.”

    Section 215 also violates the Fourth Amendment by giving the government the power to initiate searches without a warrant and probable cause. These searches may even be conducted to obtain information on one’s use of his First Amendment rights.

    The government does not need these powers. They can already prosecute who they wish as long as they have a valid reason to do so. They can already spy on citizens if there is probable cause and can engage in surveillance of foreign powers without any evidence of a crime being committed.

    Whether citizens believe it or not, many may begin to censure themselves; they may refrain from certain topics and keep opinions to themselves rather than spreading ideas out in the open. We all feel less comfortable when we suspect we are being watched.

    But the greatest danger of the Patriot Act may not be what it contains, but what it does not.

    The Patriot Act is “scary [and] not well defined,” History Teacher Ms. Piro said. “There’s enough of a grey area in it so that it can be interpreted how [the government] wants.”

    The government has deliberately disclosed little information about the Patriot Act. If more information existed then citizens would be able to prove that the government has gone past its boundaries as they blindly seek for terrorists. By withholding crucial information, we can do nothing.

    If we are to trust the government, our leaders should not feel the need to keep us in the dark of certain matters.

    “…It’s not right for the government to hide things from us,” Piro said. “But because I’ve been in a leadership position before I’ve realized you need to do certain things to reduce hysteria. You have to hold back information for a brief period of time until you figure out how to tactfully deliver it.”

    The key words are “brief period of time.” The Patriot Act was first enacted in 2001. For the past seven years we have waited for more insight, yet all the government can tell us is “I do not recall”?

    Congress passed Patriot Act 2 in 2003; it was said to only server to strengthen the first Patriot Act. However, just like its predecessor, it is complex. Thanks to the citizen subpoena power of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has determined that it grants more power to the government to bypass checks and balances that remained on government surveillance, wiretapping, detention, and criminal prosecution. Patriot Act 2 further expands the reach of an already blatantly broad definition of terrorism so that organizations engaged in civil disobedience can be wiretapped.

    Moreover, court-approved limits on police spying on political and religious activity were terminated. The Constitution ensures that government searches and wiretaps, orders for confidential records, and spying on religious and political activity are subject to important limits. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) is supposed to assure that wiretaps will not be subject to the discretion of the Executive Branch; however, this is obviously not successful.

    Each branch of government should control no other. Without each branch making sure that the others are not overstepping their boundaries, an abundance of power can lay in the hands of one man.

    “Where are [the checks and balances]? I don’t see evidence of them anymore,” Piro said.

    Criminal Treatment
    As Ben Franklin once said, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

    We should not believe that we have to give up our rights to protect ourselves, as the government wants us to believe. Currently, spying and arresting citizens and foreigners without any source of probable cause is acceptable. Times of war should not give the President additional authority to illegally detain people he classifies as a threat. No president should be given the power to call someone an enemy, wave his hand, and lock them away indefinitely. Our President seems to have forgotten about habeas corpus, the Constitutional right that protects citizens from that exact treatment.

    Before adjourning in 2006, Congress passed the Military Commissions Act (MCA), which cast aside the Constitution—again—and gave the President the power to set his own definitions for torture. The MCA eliminates due process, rejects the Constitution, permits coerced evidence, and makes the President his “own judge and jury.”

    Torture is illegal; it is banned by domestic and international law. The United States was founded on the belief that “all men are created equal and have the unalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” A criminal is no less of a person.

    The torture used may not even give our government accurate information. Torture victims give erroneous information in order to end their suffering.

    “[A torture victim] could play you right into a trap,” Morrison said.

    The treatment of suspects is overlooked during times of war. Countries often believe that the rules change during war, and even though there are never fair rules during war, people should not feel pressed to forget about ethics.

    “War is a great time for the government to do anything it…wants to because people just fall in line,” Mt. Holyoke Senior Meredith Munn said. “The words ‘time of war’ can be used to justify just about anything to an extent that is extremely dangerous. It’s not just the U.S. though; people get truly batty during war.”

    Extraordinary Rendition
    The CIA is abducting foreign nationals for detention and interrogation in overseas prisons, known as extraordinary rendition. Beginning in the 1990s, the CIA has been gathering information on possible terrorists. After obtaining this information, the CIA then kidnaps those individuals, detains them, and interrogates them in countries where the CIA believes international legal safeguards do not apply, allowing them to “legally break the law.”

    This practice eliminates the Constitutional due process right of habeas corpus. The government is, once again, given the power to hold hundreds of prisoners for years without official charges against them.

    Any fan of Law and Order knows that our legal system does not accept coerced evidence in a court of law. However, the government believes that beating information out of a suspect is acceptable in other countries and as a result, illegal and inaccurate convictions are made.

    Our government naturally has not admitted to using this practice. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice stated in 2006 that the United States does not transfer people to places where it is known they will be tortured; yet according to the European Parliamentary report of Feb. 2007, the CIA has conducted over one thousand flights to places suspect of torture sites.

    The CIA first authorized this practice under Bill Clinton, but its use grew sharply after the Sept. 11 attacks.

    “Declaring a war on terror with seemingly no concrete goals or methods and using that declaration as a vehicle to justify each and every action of government in opposition to the basic governmental principles of democracy is both irresponsible and unacceptable,” Munn said.

    There is very little coverage of extraordinary rendition in the media, mainly because so little information is available to the public. The Bush administration covers its tracks, and as Al Gore once said of extraordinary rendition, “That's a no-brainer. Of course it's a violation of international law, that's why it's a covert action.”

    Dana Priest, journalist for the Washington Post, wrote about rendition in 2005: “Members of the Rendition Group follow a simple but standard procedure: Dressed head to toe in black, including masks, they blindfold and cut the clothes off their new captives, then administer an enema and sleeping drugs. They outfit detainees in a diaper and jumpsuit for what can be a day-long trip. Their destinations: either a detention facility operated by cooperative countries in the Middle East and Central Asia, including Afghanistan, or one of the CIA's own covert prisons – referred to in classified documents as ‘black sites,’ which at various times have been operated in eight countries, including several in Eastern Europe.”

    Congress must fix the MCA. Giving a president unlimited power to decide which non-citizen is an enemy, kidnapping him, and then torturing him should not be what we stand for. No government should imprison someone indefinitely before being found guilty beyond reasonable doubt. The time for Congress to challenge the President’s power is now.

    “Hannah Arendt, in The Origins of Totalitarianism, writes a lot about Nazi Germany and the rise of totalitarianism as well as the conditions for its origins,” Munn said. “She does a very convincing analysis of the elements of a totalitarian government, and if one subscribes to her foundational points, it is pretty easy to draw parallels between totalitarianism and modern U.S. politics.”

    President Bush has unprecedented power within the United States. This kind of power, to a degree, is found in totalitarian governments. Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin did not obtain complete power overnight. Their skillful use of propaganda allowed them to work from behind the scenes to slowly snatch away citizens’ rights.

    “Hiding things from your citizens, taking away their privacy rights, having your agenda [are examples of a totalitarian dictatorship],” Piro said, noting that such a system of government can be foreseen. “…If you have an American public that doesn’t know what that is, it’ll happen…That’s why education is important. You can see the mistakes from the past. If you don’t have an education you won’t see it coming.”

    A totalitarian dictatorship rises to power when the population of that nation is threatened and bands together under the leadership of one strong person, Morrison explained.

    This type of person tends to have overwhelming charisma and insanely devoted followers. Although the Bush administration lacks this, similarities still exist. George Bush inevitably has his own hidden agenda and has a reason for removing citizens’ rights.

    The Bush administration uses our elected Congressmen, who are supposed to represent our best interests, to enact laws that not only further his agenda, but also hurt the citizens. Mussolini used the liberals in the Italian parliament to introduce strict censorship.

    Totalitarian governments emphasize military aggression. President Bush uses American citizens’ tax dollars on destruction and war instead of investing in educating future generations.

    Totalitarian governments identify their enemies in order to unify their people. President Bush initially succeeded in uniting the country to go to war.

    Totalitarian governments obsess over crime and punishment, protect corporations, and spread nationalism. Does any of that sound familiar?

    Stalin used camps known as gulags to indefinitely imprison many of his citizens. What does President Bush use Guantánamo Bay for?

    “It’s a slippery slope from George Bush to Mussolini—and a couple of IQ points,” Morrison said with a laugh.

    Totalitarian regimes typically have very strong, effective governments, but what price are we willing to pay for our government? The number of similarities between our government and totalitarian governments has become unsettling.

    “I would never say that the Bush administration is actually a totalitarian regime, but I certainly wouldn’t label it a democracy either,” Munn said. “We are reaching some pretty scary middle ground.”

    President Bush does not need to become Big Brother to protect the United States. Rather than lying to the public, placing himself above the law, and ignoring the Constitution, he should work to peacefully unite the country and follow the law to guarantee our safety. Taking away our rights will not protect us. If he listened during history class, maybe he would know that the end does not often bode well for totalitarian dictators.

    “For this President, fear is an easier political tactic than compromise,” Former Head of Counterterrorism at the National Security Council Richard A. Clarke said. “…In order to defeat the…extremists who do not believe in human rights, we need not give up the civil liberties, Constitutional rights and protections that generations of Americans fought to achieve. We do not need to create Big Brother…this is unfortunately the path the President is taking us down…he once again played the fear card. While he has failed in…leaving the country better off than when he took power, he did achieve one thing: successfully perpetuating fear for political gain. Sadly, it may be one of the only achievements of his presidency.”

    Our Future
    No one can accurately foresee what our future holds. However, if we continue down this path of tyranny, the U.S. will not be a pleasant place.

    The government will directly control the news. Americans will think less for themselves than ever. Education and propaganda will not be distinguishable from one another. All funds will go towards the military. People will be monitored at all times. The government will use religion to control the masses. Only corporations with ties to people in power will receive business. Other countries will be declared as inferior and looked down upon as nationalism is spread. Intellectuals will be erased.

    That is one possible future that may await us. I only hope that our next leader is able to bring us together and give back our rights that never should have been taken away.

    John Locke stressed that if a leader violates the community’s trust, he should be replaced immediately.

    What are we all waiting for?