With no shortage of pomp, or opportunism, Presdent Bush used the second anniversary of the September 11 attacks to demand that Congress “unleash” the hands of law enforcement both at home and abroad.
In his speech at the FBI’s national training facility in Virginia (on what he wants everybody to call “Patriot’s Day”), the president commended his audience’s efforts in the war on terror and emphasized the need for expanded legal tools at home. Bush called this essential to save American lives:
“For the sake of the American people, Congress should change the law and give law enforcement officials the same tools they have to fight terror that they have to fight other crime.”
Translation: Bush wants to beef up the Patriot Act, already the largest expansion of snooping powers in American history. Democrats and civil liberties groups (left and right) were already opposed to the law. That goes double now. The legislation, which was passed just six weeks after the September 11 attacks, has been widely criticized for cutting away at key constitutional guarantees. Nearly 160 communities have opposed the legislation.The act has received so much criticism that Attorney General John Ashcroft has been caravaning across the U.S. to drum up support for it.
Bush’s proposals would make several changes to the constitutional freedoms Americans enjoy. Anyone suspected of terrorist activity could be detained without a court order. Phone records and other information could also be requested via an “administrative subpoena” from the attorney general, without any court oversight. The president also called for abolishing bail and expanding the use of the death penalty in a greater number of terrorism-related crimes.
Democrats are ready for a fight. Representative John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, a ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, finds the proposals to be more than a little problematic:
“Removing judges from providing any check or balance on John Ashcroft’s subpoenas does not make us safer, it only makes us less free. Of course terrorists should not be released on bail, but this administration has a shameful record of deeming law-abiding citizens as terrorists and taking away their rights.”
The New York Times thinks that getting Congress to pass the proposed legislation will be a hard sell for the White House:
“Mr. Bush’s proposal for stronger counterterrorism laws, made in a toughly worded speech today, faces a hard sell in Congress, as the administration tries to persuade skeptical lawmakers in both parties that the authorities will not abuse their growing power to investigate and lock up suspects.
But rather than using Mr. Ashcroft, a polarizing figure, to unveil the proposals, the White House decided to have Mr. Bush personally announce the plan on the eve of the second anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks — and at an early stage of the presidential campaign.”
But aside from the politicians, some average citizens are wary of the White House proposed cutbacks of constitutional protections. Ashcroft’s U.S. tour has been dogged by protesters, and the ACLU is organizing communities to fight back.
While many Americans feel beseiged at home, their civil liberties under threat, there are growing signs that terrorists abroad aren’t feeling beseiged enough. According to a recent report from the United Kingdom, the world is still full of evildoers ready to strike Americans:
“Military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq have failed significantly to dent al-Qaida’s capacities, and the US military presence may serve as a further focus for radical paramilitaries.
European and majority world opinion has moved against US policy in key areas. US actions are increasingly perceived worldwide as part of a programme to economically exploit developing countries. Levels of anti-Americanism have risen significantly.”
No wonder so many Americans feel unsafe these days.
Perhaps the most poignant civil liberties arguments came from those most closely affected by the tragedy two years ago. While people quietly mourned the dead and vowed to remember their lives, a smaller group of families felt the need to protest the politicization of the day. The nation-wide group, “September Eleventh Families For Peaceful Tomorrows” released the following statement:
“Our loved ones’ deaths prompted the US government to attack Afghanistan and overthrow the repressive Taliban government with the objective of catching Osama Bin Laden and other members of Al Queda thought to be responsible for the attackÉOur military campaign in Afghanistan did one thing for certain: it created more bereaved families just like ours.
Shortly after 9/11/01, the US congress passed the USA Patriot act, ostensibly to improve security in the United States, with little time for examination of its consequences. In this climate of fear and panic, the Patriot Act and other measures have eroded basic American civil liberties and threatened our immigrant populations in particular. Today, unnamed people languish in unidentified locations on unknown charges under the guise of American justice. Yet there is no evidence that these measures have made us any safer. At the same time, the administration stalls on efforts to provide an open and honest investigation of the events of 9/11.
As grieving family members, we know that feelings of fear and anger are a natural part of the healing process. But we have learned that it is not healthy or constructive to act on these emotions. The governmentÕs response to 9/11 has kept us stuck in the fear and panic that we all shared from the shocking events of 9/11. Rather than basing our policies on fear and anger, we call upon the government to act in the best interest of the American public by rejoining the community of nations to work together constructively in solving the issues of worldwide terrorism and war.”