Monday, September 06, 2004

What Rights are We Willing To Forego?

Michael Hassig
September 03, 2004

More than 330 communities and towns and four states have passed local resolutions against the USA PATRIOT Act and the intrusions into civil liberties that it represents. These resolutions have come not only from small bastions of liberalism like Madison, Wis., but also from large cities like Jackson, Miss.; New York City; Washington, D.C.; and Los Angeles, Calif. Recently, Carbondale, Colo., joined their ranks, and Carbondale Mayor Michael Hassig gave the following remarks to a gathering of local residents and activists on Aug. 29.

The USA PATRIOT Act stands for "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism"—a remarkable acronym in its own right. As the ACLU writes:

"The Patriot Act expands terrorism laws to include "domestic terrorism" which could subject political organizations to surveillance, wiretapping, harassment, and criminal action for political activity.

It expands the ability of law enforcement to conduct secret searches, gives them wide powers of phone and internet surveillance, and access to highly personal medical, financial, mental health and student records without judicial oversight.

Allows FBI agents to investigate American citizens for criminal matters without probable cause of crime if they say it is for "intelligence purposes."

Permits non-citizens to be jailed based on mere suspicion and to be denied re-admission to the US for engaging in free speech. Suspects convicted of no crime may be detained indefinitely in six month increments without meaningful judicial review."

The Patriot Act was proposed as a necessary and immediate response to the horrific events of September 11th.My remarks today are in no way intended to minimize that tragedy or to suggest that appropriate actions should not be taken to bring those criminals to justice.

The Patriot Act was signed into law just 45 days after those attacks. It passed the Senate without discussion, debate or hearings. Despite attempts in the House to construct a compromise bill, the House leadership rejected that approach and instead insisted that the bill be considered without discussion or amendment. Our representatives in Washington were faced with a simple yes or no vote—one that by extension was characterized as:Are you a patriot—or not?

Two simple questions remained unasked at that time: Would the provisions contained in this bill have prevented those attacks? Or were these provisions merely a longstanding law enforcement "wish list" that had been previously and repeatedly rejected by Congress?

For today's gathering, I'd like to review the Patriot Act as it relates to the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution. Amendment 1 states that: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Section 802 of the the PATRIOT Act creates a new crime, "domestic terrorism," which it defines as "acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State" and that "appear to be intended... to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion."

Would Martin Luther King and the heroes of the civil rights movement—or those of us who gathered to protest the war in Vietnam—would we have been "domestic terrorists" under this definition?

Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act permits the director of the FBI to seek records from bookstores and libraries of books that a person suspected of terrorism has purchased or read, or of his or her activities on a library's computer. It also makes it a crime to for a librarian or bookstore owner to disclose that they have been ordered to produce such documents. When the determination of "suspicion" lies only with law enforcement agencies in Washington—are you comforted?

Amendment 4 states that: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Section 218 of the PATRIOT ACT amends the foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act by eliminating the need for the FBI to show probable cause before conducting secret searches or surveillance to obtain evidence of a crime.

Section 213 of the PATRIOT ACT permits the government to search your home with no one present and to delay notification indefinitely. Court may authorize delayed notification "if the court finds reasonable cause to believe that providing immediate notification...may have an adverse result."

Amendment 5 states (in part) that "No person shall be held to answer for a ... crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury..., not shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property,without due process of law."

Amendment 6 states (in part) that "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed...and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witness against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defence."

Section 412 of the PATRIOT ACT gives the Attorney General broad powers to certify immigrants as risks and to detain them indefinitely. Similarly, by Presidential order, any U.S. citizen or non-citizen designated as an "enemy combatant" may be placed in military custody, held in detention indefinitely, interrogated and denied communication withoutsiders or judicial review.

The questions we must ask ourselves are these:

What rights are we willing to forego in the name of enhanced security?

Are we convinced that relinquishing these rights will truly enhance our safety and security?

Do we truly believe and trust that present and future government officials will neverabuse the provisions of this Act for mere political objectives?

I wouldn't be speaking before you today but for the actions of the Carbondale Board of Trustees which, on the 11th of May of this year passed a resolution which stated that:

Section 5: That the Carbondale Town Council supports the immediate repeal of unconstitutional provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act and strongly urges the State of Colorado's congressional delegation to vigourously resist and oppose any and all attempts to extend and make permanent the powers and authorities contained in the USA PATRIOT Act now scheduled to cease to have effect on December 31, 2005.

This resolution passed unanmiously.

Like many of you, I watched the attacks of September 11, with shock, horror, grief—and anger. I was ready to put politics aside—to stop and honor those who had lost their lives—and then to help redirect this country toward a new path—at home and abroad. I was prepared for—no, hoped—that sacrifices would be expected of us as a nation. Perhaps naively, I thought that we would embrace these new challenges.

Could we really expect to carry on our wasteful, profligate consumer culture after witnessing this loss? Could we really continue to pretend that we were exempt from the laws of nature and the discoveries of science?

I think to this day that America would have enthusiastically responded—if asked. What was asked of us instead?

That we support a retaliatory and ultimately half-hearted attempt to root out the terrorists in Afganistan. That we support tax cuts for those who need it least. That we support an unrelated—and unwinnable—war; a war based on lies, deception and propaganda. That we support a national energy policy drawn up in secret—by those who have everything to gain by preserving the status quo. That we support the creation of a huge new federal bureaucracy—under the guise of educational reform. That we accept extraordinary increases in the federal debt—and bequeath it to our children and grandchildren. That we accept and support limitations on our constitutional rights—under the guise of patriotism.

In America, even in the face of tragedy—hope arises. Wallace Stegner called the West—our West—"the native home of hope." As I look around on this glorious August day, I remain hopeful. This gathering gives me hope: That their are those who still believe in the power of ideas—and not the lies and cynicism of sound bytes. That there are those still willing to stand up for their beliefs—rather than succumbing to the anaesthesia that passes for popular culture. And that there are those who still find joy and health in their communities—of friends and neighbors.

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?