by Joe Shea
American Reporter Editor-in-Chief
November 26, 2001
Editorial: BEYOND AFGHANISTAN
With the end of the Afghanistan stage of the War Against Terrorism now in sight, it behooves every American to try to look beyond the immediate fighting and help our nation determine where we go from here.
An informed and articulate electorate will make a great deal of difference in choosing the destiny of freedom.
As described elsewhere in these pages, a code of justice that is akin by analogy to antimatter and known as the U.S.A. Patriot Act is now law; it is anti-justice, un-American, and dangerous to freedom. It represents, I fear, the long-awaited "man on horseback," and if so, the roughshod ride across democracy has just begun.
Coupled with a Nov. 13 military order issued by President Bush creating military tribunals to try suspected terrorists, this "alternative" justice system compromises the very rights millions of Americans fought in our nation's wars to preserve.
With hundreds of non-citizens now in custody without charges, most of them for a month or longer, this country has fundamentally violated some of its most basic and enduring principles, including the right to a public trial, to be presented with a warrant before your home is searched, the right to privacy in one's discussions with an attorney, and the right to be free of government eavesdropping in a variety of media, including telephones and cell phones and the Internet.
Americans who cannot see beyond the immediate need to stop and seize terrorists may end up losing far more here in America than the Taliban has lost in Afghanistan.
The principles we violated once were sacrosanct; now, they are open to negotiation. Well do we know that the genie does not readily go back into the bottle, nor do the plagues and pestilence of terror end because someone has passed a law or issued an order. But the genius of America is freedom; taking it away from others is a precedent that in the future becomes more easy to apply to ourselves.
You may not be a sap, but the rewritten laws, new orders and modified regulations and now the U.S.AP Act treat you like one. The latter's name seeks to persuade you that to support it confers the halo of patriotism upon you; it suggests that there is a fundamental difference between your rights and those of people who are in this country but not citizens of it.
Many of you are easily persuaded that your interests are not in principles and vague ideas like freedom, but in safety, stability and secure borders. That's why the Benjamin Franklin quote about how people who would trade freedom for safety and security deserve neither is circulating so widely today.
Unfortunately, the attack on U.S.AP and measures like it is not coming from America's center, but from the Left and Right. That suggests that those most sensitive to political change are more aware of the downwind stink of U.S.AP and the Nov. 13 order than are the 200 million other Americans that nestle snugly in the political middle.
For too many of the terminally secure, revenge comes first and ought to be followed by restrictions on those uncomfortable activities that trouble their dreams of progress, seize the imaginations of their teenage children and catalyze their college kids. They dislike demonstrations, student strikes, boycotts, pickets, rights marches and the like, as they dislike hairy people, tattoos, dirty clothes, nose rings, nasty language and social heresy.
The political middle class, whose sole contribution to democracy is to re-elect their Congressman every two years no matter what his votes or crimes, feel insulated from the forces that move the rest of us. The turmoil is on their television screens, once in a while, but there's always been violence and horrid things there -- they're used to it. For them, the times are not a' changing, there's just more going on.
They are not inclined to see the rights of foreigners in this country as something that can be confused with their rights, and their rights are so fragmented and so highly conditional anyway that the entire issue is irrelevant. Who can really engage in free speech if your company can fire you for talking to reporters, or enjoy equality under the law if your child's application for college has to go in the pile underneath those of kids from other races and income brackets?
What good is freedom of the press if the media is owned by a handful of companies? What good is freedom of assembly if you need a permit to have a parade? What good is freedom of religion if the neighborhood isn't zoned for a church? What good is the right to bear arms if the police won't give you a concealed weapons permit?
All of our freedoms are so carefully conditioned that for the political middle class, who generally do not use their freedoms, they are really little more than a pleasant myth.
The U.S.A. accommodates that conditioning so well that I suspect 90 percent or more of all Americans could not even name the law or tell you even one way in which it contradicts the constitutional protections afforded to U.S. citizens. Our civil rights are going the way of those war- and terror-torn nominal democracies like Israel and Northern Ireland, and for the people in those benighted places, it hasn't come a moment too soon. The more quickly we "wake up" and cede our liberties to the military, the politicians and the police, they say, the better off we will be.
Beyond Afghanistan lies a great wide world of terror from Somalia and Zimbabwe to Colombia and Guyana, from New York and Oklahoma City to Belfast and the Basque region, from Tehran to Tel Aviv. Enormous opportunities for a revised code of law that indicts the innocent and imprisons the Other await us. Corporations whose avarice is unstoppable by law will be unstoppable by violence, too, or so they believe. Governments that cannot steal enough legally will find new avenues for theft.
With "security" comes not the oppression of badges, passwords and retinal scans, they think, but the bright promise of profit and easy re-election. And America will lead the way.
I am pessimistic about the ability of the average American to put his and her best true interests first. It is hard for them to see, through the fog of false prosperity that weighs so heavily on us at this time of year, that all they have and all they are is due to the freedom they enjoy, and that they are perilously close to losing most of it.
You don't need to harangue the Left and Right on these points; you need to sell them to the people in the three-bedroom split-levels out near the Interstate, where the malls stretch on forever and Doomsday never comes.