41417 -8875 www .lazyoakbandb.corn Bed and Breakfast OPEN FORUM n the two months since the hor I rific September 11 tragedies, the Administration has moved doggedly to undercut one constitutional protection after another in the U.S. Bill of Rights. Often, it uses executive orders to bypass Congress and the judicial system. First, it pushed Congress to pass an anti-terrorism law that lowered the standard for eavesdropping and search warrants, authorized a secret court in the Justice Department basement to issue secret nationwide warrants, and allowed the government to raid our e-mails without legal restraint. At the same time, United States Attorney General John Ashcroft detained 1,154 people, mostly of Egyptian, Saudi Arabian, and Pakistani origin and of Muslim belief, without allowing them court review, bail, counsel, or access to the public. In fact, we don’t know how many people are actually in custody. There are no public records, just Ashcroft’s word. Foreign studentsagain from the Muslim worldalso came under intense scrutiny, with the government asking universities to turn over student information and records. Now, Ashcroft has instructed local law enforcement around the country to seek out another 5,000 men of Arab origin from ages 18 to 33, also on the pretext of immigration violations, so he can hold them for “questioning.” As the Washington Post reported on November 4, only nine of those in cushad malevolent contact with the September 11 terrorists, and 17 are believed to have had some contact No one can explain why the other 1,128 people, or more, are in custody. By many reports, the conditions of their confinements are harsh.Talk show commentary has turned to discussions about the use of torture in a national emergency. Administration officials adamantly deny racial or religious profiling, but their actions belie their words. The targets are people of Arab origin and from Muslim countries. One would be hard pressed to distinguish this conduct from the treatment of Japanese Americans in World War II. Ashcroft’s next st_ep,_Avhich-lre tfiedio _ implement without public announcement, was to allow eavesdropping on attorneys’ interviews with their clients. Up to this juncture, the attorney-client relationship was fairly sacrosanct. No longer. And trust the government, Ashcroft says, not to abuse its new power. That comment would have brought a strong rejoinder from our Founders who wrote the Constitution. Then came President George W. Bush’s military order setting up secret military “commissions” to try people he designateswithout jury, the rules of evidence, proof beyond a reasonable doubt, or the right to counsel. Only two of the three military officers \(or two-thirds, if appoints to the secret commissions, whose members are not judges, are required for conviction and punishment, which could even be execution. There is no review by a court of appealsor by any court for that matter. The military order does not apply to citizens, but does include legally resident immigrants in this country, no matter how long they have lived here or how strong a member of their community they are.And these military commissions can sit anywhere in the world, even, ominously, on a ship at sea. The government invokes Abraham Lincoln’s and Franklin D.. Roosevelt’s use of military tribunals. But we are not involved in anything remotely like the Civil War or World War II. During the Cold War, we repeatedly castigated the Soviet Union and China for their secret courts, indefinite imprisonments, and executionsthe very things our government is now doing or contemplating. The Soviets and Chinese invoked the same national security rationale that Bush uses. The impetus of international law has been in the direction of greater openness, transparency, and due process. The Administration 7s-seeret-milita commissions undercut the rule of law, here and abroad. How can we preach democracy and the rule of due process when we don’t practice it, and strive mightily to J ustify an exception for ourselves? The frightening irony is that the Administration cannot show how any of its radical measures to weaken our constitutional rights would have prevented the events of September 11. And are we to believe that this government, which can conduct amazing technological wars with incredible precision, is incompetent to protect us without suspending our rights? It will be a sad day in American history if our government allows terrorism to diminish our. Bill of Rights. If we permit that to happen, we will have allowed the terrorists victory over our democracy and the unique experiment of constitutional government we pioneered. James C. Harrington is the director of the Texas Civil Rights Project. Bill of Rights Terrorized BY JAMES C. HARRINGTON 12/7/01 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 15
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