by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
November 21, 2001
LAND OF THE FREE? NOT UNDER USA PATRIOT ACT
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- While most Americans were busy hanging flags and fretting about anthrax, your elected representatives in Washington decidedto repeal a large chunk of the U.S. Constitution.
Under the pretext of "fighting terrorism," the U.S.A Patriot Act was rushed through Congress and enacted into law with little debate. What does the new law call for?
In short, the United States is now a police state. Two hundredyears of Constitutional protections have been thrown in the rubbish.
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 antiwar movements in the 1960's and 1970's, 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 1,000immigrants - 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-Qaida 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 appeals 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 usor against us," they and their allies in the press seek to bully intosilence anyone who still believes in the Bill of Rights. All they have todo is denounce their opponents as lacking in patriotism and wave the flagsome 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 U.S.A 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 asolemn oath to protect and defend.
Silence is no longer an option.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for morethan 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books).