Don't Panic

Your war questions Answered

Are the civil liberties of regular people really at RISK because of the War on Terror?

I don't know that digestive function and civil liberties are in any way related, although I suppose it would be harder for people who are in the bathroom a lot to keep an eye on what the government is up to.

(Non-digestive answer follows)

Even before Congress passed the USA PATRIOT Act in the "we gotta do something, anything" rush that followed the Sept. 11 attacks, critics of the act (whose name is an Ashcronym for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act) warned that its passage would erode the liberties of regular folk without necessarily making people any safer from terrorist attacks.

Fears about the Act itself were compounded by Attorney General John Ashcroft. As the country's top law enforcement officer, he not only gets first dibs when the "Hot Doughnuts Now" sign comes on, but he's the guy who gets to wield a lot of the scary new police powers — and frankly, his values and guiding principles are out of step with those of a lot of people. In 1998, in white supremacist magazine Southern Partisan, he praised the leaders of the Confederacy as true patriots. For readers who missed that war, the Confederates were the pro-slavery ones who broke the country in two and caused the deadliest war in American history.

It's hard for us to get worked up about the government infringing on our rights because we don't relate to most of the examples trumpeted in the mainstream press. It's scary that Jose "Alleged Dirty Bomber" Padilla has had his Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights trashed, but most people aren't looking at him and thinking, "Gosh, that could happen to me," even though he is a citizen.

There is, however, plenty of liberty-trashing that affects us regular ol' non-dirty bombing types. The USA Patriot Act gave the FBI the power to obtain your library records, including what websites you visited on library computers and any e-mails that you might happen to send or receive there. Because it can be done entirely in secret, there's no way to check whether the FBI isn't just snooping on everyone. Allowed to operate without public oversight, law enforcement will inevitably abuse its power. They have before and they will again. In response, those fire-breathing radicals at the American Library Association have formally denounced the USA Patriot Act, with many libraries going so far as to destroy their records so that the feds can't get them.

Another example is the Department of Transportation's "no-fly" list. Barry Steinhart of the ACLU said in a radio interview that a DOT official characterized the list as "a thousand guys named Muhammed." Jan Adams and Rebecca Gordon, neither of whom are named Muhammed, disagree. They're suing to get off the "no-fly" list which they were seemingly put on out of political spite. They're not violent. They do, however, publish a newsletter critical of the government.

So let's get that straight — Gordon and Adams criticize the government and they get banned from flying. Ashcroft praises the rebel leaders who nearly destroyed this country and he gets to be attorney general.

If the newer and scarier Patriot Act II passes, the rights of regular people are at even greater risk. If it passes in its proposed form, the law enforcement will be able to secretly arrest U.S. citizens. The feds would have access to our financial records without having to get a court order. There are too many scary provisions in it to truly pick a "scariest of all," but how about this one: People and groups engaged in protest of government policy could be wiretapped, have their assets seized, or be stripped of their citizenship. Ain't that patriotic? [email protected]