Subjugation of liberty degrades America

Freedom itself was attacked this morning by a faceless coward,” President George W. Bush told the nation on Sept. 11. “Freedom will be defended.” But it is the Bush administration, along with its cohorts, who are threatening the very freedom our military defends. Since the terrorist attacks, our leaders have forgotten what the U.S. Constitution represents, and they have begun subjugating our civil rights all in the name of war.

The Bush administration uses the fact that our country is at war to excuse violating civil liberties. Technically, our country is not even at war; Congress, which is the only branch of government with the power to declare war, has done no such thing. Even if you disregard the technicality, wartime is not a valid reason to violate our right to freedom.

One of these violations is the FBI request that local police departments round up Arab-Americans and Israelis and question them – a request closely resembling racial profiling, and which some police departments have refused to do. U.S. authorities have detained hundreds of people, mostly from other countries, since the terrorist attacks.

When you are arrested in the United States, you are afforded rights. You have the right to due process, which includes being released within 48 hours if you are not charged with a crime. For some of those detainees, it has been nearly three months.

The Bush administration wants to go further than this, however, and impose new laws that allow immigration officials to detain non-citizens for seven days without charging them and for an indefinite time if a threat against the country is suspected. In addition, these new laws would allow U.S. intelligence to monitor conversations between detainees, including U.S. citizens, and their attorneys without a court order.

In further violation of due process, not to mention in direct breach of governmental checks and balances, the Bush administration has circumvented congressional consultation to create military tribunals to prosecute suspected terrorists in secret – this coming from a country that supposedly holds due process in high esteem. The fact only President Bush will write the rules – without consultation with or approval from Congress – makes a mockery out of the country’s judicial system and the Fifth Amendment right to due process.

Congress is nervous about Bush’s declaration of sole authority over the tribunals. U.N. officials have questioned the plan. And this week, the International Commission of Jurists, an organization of judges and lawyers, wrote a letter urging Bush to rethink his plans. The commission asked Bush to abide by the same standards formerly set by the United States and other World War II allies to deal with Nazi criminals, whom the commission called “authors of some of the most heinous criminal acts in recorded history.”

Many prominent figures in the international community are urging the Bush administration to reconsider the creation of the tribunals. Mary Robinson, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, explained, “It is very difficult to bring home to countries without a strong democratic tradition the importance of building a system based on the rule of law, when standards slip in countries like the United States.”

Particularly troubling about all of this is the executive orders on military tribunals as well as attorney-client monitoring have no end date. Even when President Franklin D. Roosevelt allowed military tribunals during World War II, the order was for a single tribunal, not unlimited power.

Bush said in a speech soon after the terrorist attacks, “Terrorist acts can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but cannot touch the foundation of America.” We’ve come to find out the Bush administration can do that on its own.

Yet the Bush administration is not alone in its violation of American principles. The American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a conservative think tank (of which Vice President Dick Cheney’s wife, Lynne Cheney, is a former chairwoman), recently released a report accusing college professors and administrators across the nation of unpatriotic speech and behavior.

The American Council report lists and accuses 117 professors and other academic leaders (including a college president) of unpatriotic behavior. The report calls professors “the weak link in America’s response to the attack” for promoting “tolerance and diversity as antidotes to evil.” The creation of this list echoes back to the days of McCarthyism, when political science and history professors were labeled as communists for lesson plans that included communism.

Rev. Jesse Jackson is on the list for telling a Harvard Law School audience the United States should “build bridges and relationships, not simply drop bombs and walls.” A University of North Carolina art professor was accused for remarking, “We offer this teach-in as an alternative to the cries of war and as an end to the cycle of continued global violence.”

“Break the cycle of violence,” said a Pomona College faculty panel. And the director of the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization said, “It is from the desperate, angry and bereaved that these suicide pilots came.” Rather than being unpatriotic, these statements cultivate discussion and support the tolerance of diverse opinions, all of which represent the principles upon which our country was founded.

Many of those who publicly question American actions since the terrorist attacks have been labeled anti-American. In doing so, people from our leaders down to our neighbors are tearing at the United States’ glory.

Whether it is our right to free speech or due process, our civil liberties must not be compromised simply because of ongoing military action. If the Bush administration and other radical groups take these away, what is our country worth fighting for?

Erin Ghere welcomes comments at [email protected]