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One Giant Step Towards A Police State

by Randolph T. Holhut

Where were our elected reps when they counted?
(AR) -- While most Americans were busy hanging flags and fretting about anthrax, your elected representatives in Washington decided to repeal a large chunk of the U.S. Constitution.

Under the pretext of "fighting terrorism," the USA PATRIOT Act was rushed through Congress and enacted into law with little debate. What does the new law call for?

  • The concept of probable cause (Fourth Amendment) has been eliminated. The police can now enter your home at any time for any reason. They can search your home, your personal papers, your computer and your bank records without your knowledge or consent.

  • The right to free speech and freedom of association (First Amendment) have been repealed. The newly created crime of "domestic terrorism" is defined as the intent to influence or affect the conduct of government by intimidation or coercion, or to retaliate against government conduct. Thus, an anti-war protest can be trumped up into an act of terrorism, especially since the Attorney General and the Secretary of State now have the power to designate any group it chooses as a "terrorist organization."

  • Due process (Fifth Amendment) and the right to a speedy and public trial (Sixth Amendment) have also been eliminated. If you happen to be someone that the Attorney General designates as a threat to national security, you can be imprisoned indefinitely without trial. This also violates the Eighth (cruel and unusual punishment) and Thirteenth (punishment without conviction) Amendments.

  • Judicial oversight has been sharply reduced. Law enforcement agencies don't need warrants to conduct searches. The FBI can go through your medical, financial and educational records without having to get a court order. The CIA can again spy on American citizens. Monitoring of telephone and cell phone calls, interception of e-mails and tracking Web site visits can all be done without having to bother with legal niceties.

In short, the United States is now a police state. Two hundred years of Constitutional protections have been thrown in the rubbish.

Let's Not Trash the Constitution, Okay?
It's not the first time this has happened. From John Adams' Alien and Sedition Act, to Abraham Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War, to the Palmer Raids and the deportation of Socialists and Communists after World War I, to Franklin Roosevelt's detention of Japanese-Americans in World War II, to the COINTELPRO infiltrations of the civil rights and anti-war movements in the 1960s and 1970s, our nation's history is filled with overreactions to perceived threats during wartime.

This war is proving to be no different. There are more than 1,000 immigrants -- virtually all of Middle Eastern origin -- that have been detained by the Justice Department since Sept. 11. Their names and the alleged crimes they are charged with have not been released to the public. Not even one has been linked to Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.

Yet their conversations with their lawyers are being monitored, and more than 5,000 other legal immigrants are now being brought in for questioning and possible detention. Did someone say "racial profiling?" A brave Acting Chief of Police in Portland, Ore., has become the first local law enforcement official in a major city to say he will not cooperate with the FBI-run probe. He was echoed by the Chief of Police Charles Wilson of Detroit. "We are standing with the fundamental rights of individuals under the Constitution and the state constitution and municipal law," Wilson told the New York Times in its Nov. 22 edition.

But it gets worse. Scarcely noticed by most of the press was an executive order issued on Nov. 13 by President Bush. It gives him the power to label anyone who is not a U.S. citizen a terrorist and have that person brought before a secret military tribunal.

The Secretary of Defense will designate where the trial takes place, set the rules of evidence for the trial and decide which attorneys may be allowed to represent defendants. Only a two-thirds vote of the tribunal is needed for conviction and sentencing. There is no appeal process. And the tribunal has the power to hand out a sentence of death.

Needless to say, this order not only violates our Constitution, it violates every established international norm for justice -- including the Geneva Convention.

But none of that seems to concern President Bush or Attorney General John Ashcroft. Guided by the principle that "you are either with us or against us," they and their allies in the press seek to bully into silence anyone who still believes in the Bill of Rights. All they have to do is denounce their opponents as lacking in patriotism and wave the flag some more.

I say that we must not let our leaders get away with trashing freedoms that generations of Americans have fought and died to preserve. The USA PATRIOT Act must be repealed immediately. President Bush's establishment of star chamber justice for anyone he deems to be the enemy must be stopped. More than ever, we need to stand up for our Constitution -- the very document that every elected official in the United States takes a solemn oath to protect and defend.

Silence is no longer an option.

Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books)

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Albion Monitor November 26, 2001 (

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