Vol. 12, No. 3,009 - The American Reporter - October 19, 2006

On Native Ground

by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
Dummerston, Vt.

Printable version of this story

DUMMERSTON, Vt. - We got a preview of what the 108th Congress is going to be like with the Republicans' performance in ramming the Homeland Security Act through this month's lame duck session.

The bill, which started out as a 32-page document, was magically transformed after the GOP's midterm election triumph into a 484-page document loaded with pork, corporate welfare and special interest favors for the GOP's friends.

The pro-gunners got a provision to arm airline pilots. The drug companies got liability protection for developing new vaccines. The various companies that make anti-terrorism technology got similar legal protection. U.S. companies that have set up their headquarters overseas to avoid paying taxes are now eligible for government contracts. And, as a going-away gift to outgoing Texas GOP Senator Phil Gramm, Texas A & M has been awarded a homeland security research center.

With the memory of what happened to Georgia Senator Max Cleland fresh in Democrats' minds, most Democrats voted for the bill. Cleland's mild objections to President Bush's plans to remove civil service protections from more than 170,000 employees in the name of "national security" was used as campaign fodder by Republican challenger Saxby Chambliss, who defeated Cleland in the midterm election.

The spectacle of Chambliss, who used a bum knee and three student deferments to avoid service in the Vietnam War, attack Cleland, a decorated Vietnam who lost both legs and an arm in that war, as being unpatriotic was one of the most disgusting acts in the recent history of the GOP. But the GOP got away with this, and got away with turning the Homeland Security Act into a bloated porker of a bill, because of the Democrats' fear of taking on George Bush. This is only the first of what will likely be more legislative outrages like over the next two years.

But that's the least of the problem. In an eerie replay of what happened last October with the U.S.A Patriot Act, Congress overwhelmingly approved a massive law with many far-reaching consequences for Americans' civil liberties without even attempting to read the fine print. Quite simply, put the Patriot Act together with the Homeland Security Act and what you get is the foundation for the creation of the modern equivalent of the Gestapo or KGB.

Think that statement is an exaggeration? Here's a sampler of what to expect from from the new Department of Homeland Security:

  • It will have the power to eavesdrop on your phone calls and read your mail. It can call up your Internet service provider and monitor all your e-mail and Web browsing habits. It doesn't need a court warrant to do these things, nor will it need one to enter your home or stop you in your car and conduct a search at any time for any reason if there's reason to suspect that you are a "terrorist."
  • It can walk into your bank and demand to see your checking and savings account statements. It can require credit card companies to turn over your account information. It can go to the library or your local book seller or video store to check on what you've been reading or watching. Again, no search warrant is needed.
  • You could be held in jail for 30 days or more without filing charges or without even being allowed to tell anyone that you are in custody. Due process or probable cause no longer matters under this law.
  • Even the definition of the word "terrorist" is being refined. It's not just someone who uses violence to frighten civilians and change how a government functions. Now, under the new law, terrorism is any act "that is a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State or other subdivision of the United States" that "appears to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population." It's not much of a stretch to believe that this vague wording will ultimately be applied toward anyone who opposes the government and its policies. Be prepared to see anti-war protesters and other opponents of the Bush administration to be classified as terrorists.

Some may say the threat of terrorism demands tougher security measures. I say there's no threat anywhere that justifies such draconian abuse of our civil liberties - especially when you give this power to the most ruthless and unscrupulous presidential administration this nation has ever seen.

It's funny how the "terrorist" threats seem to pop up whenever the Bush administration wants something. Last fall's anthrax-by-mail attacks neatly coincided with the stampede to pass the Patriot Act. Of course, we still don't know who did it and we may never know.

When the stories came out in June about the extent of the advance warning that the Bush administration had regarding the Sept. 11 attacks, suddenly we got a bunch of vague warnings about potential terror attacks on the Fourth of July.

When the corporate scandals started getting too hot and President Bush and Vice President Cheney started to face criticism for less-than-ethical actions they had done during their time in the private sector, suddenly Saddam Hussein became the focus of all evil in the world and an immediate attack on Iraq was needed.

And in this month's home stretch of the debate over the Homeland Security Act, Osama bin Laden - the man who was supposed to be dead - popped up with another one of his propaganda tapes.

The result of this game that the Bush administration has so skillfully played is clear. The fear level gets ratcheted up, the original debate gets forgotten and our elected officials rush to line up behind President Bush so they won't be thought of as unpatriotic. Meanwhile, pay no heed to the loss of your civil liberties. After all, it's only going to be a temporary thing and if you're not guilty of anything, you've nothing to worry about. Right?

Another leader in another time made a similar case for the primacy of domestic security over freedom.

"An evil exists that threatens every man, woman and child of this great nation," he wrote. "We must take steps to insure our domestic security and protect our homeland."

The leader was Chancellor Adolf Hitler, who was writing about the creation of the Gestapo in Germany in 1933. It took just one day for Hitler, using the burning of the Reichstag (blamed on the Communists, but never conclusively proven) as the pretext to convince a dottering, 86-year-old President Paul von Hindenberg to sign, on February 28, 1933, an emergency decree suspending the basic rights of German citizens for the "duration" of the emergency.

Taking advantage of the fear of a communist uprising (a fear that the Nazi Party created and helped to inflame), Hitler got a sweeping law that authorized death or imprisonment for a number of crimes, including opposition to the law itself. There were no guarantees that those arrested would have a speedy trial or access to legal counsel, and those who were detained often saw their detention extended indefinitely.

Shortly after the decree was enacted, Hitler was asked by a British reporter whether it would be permanent. Hitler responded that the suspension of civil liberties would last only until the emergency was over. That turned out to be a lie. The decree remained in effect until the fall of the Third Reich in 1945.

As seen from the German example, rights that are taken away are rarely restored. In the space of a little more than a year, Americans have allowed an unelected regime to do away with our Constitutional rights. There is no guarantee we will see them returned in our lifetimes, unless we are willing to fight as vigorously to restore these rights as our forefathers did to create them.

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

Copyright 2006 Joe Shea The American Reporter. All Rights Reserved.

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