The sequel is worse than
Patriot Act II
by Nicole Colson
International Socialist Review,
There are many things that you can accuse
the Bush administration of: racism, bigotry, war-mongering. But
squandering a political opportunity isn't one of them.
In Bush's "with us or against us"
climate following the September 11 attacks, the administration
launched an all-out assault on civil liberties-an assault that
administration figures justified in the name of "preventing
terrorism" and "protecting the homeland." The sheer
brutality and force with which the Bush administration carried
out these attacks-including the detention and deportation of hundreds
of immigrants and non-citizens as well and the legitimization
of a massive widening in the scale of government surveillance
powers-made it clear to many that Washington's underlying aims
were about silencing opposition to their "war on terror"
rather than providing safety and protection to ordinary citizens.
In the spring of 2002, attorney Candace Cohn, writing in the International
Socialist Review, commented on the connection between war abroad
and the war on our rights at home:
[M]ilitary aggression abroad has always
meant political repression at home.... Suddenly, the previous
balance of civil liberties and milder repression no longer serves
its needs. The government wastes no rime in "adjusting"
that balance to suit its new, wartime requirements-which include,
among other things, a quashing of dissent and the targeting of
an immigrant population as "the enemy.'
Since, as Bush has been so eager to remind
us, the war on terror is not limited to Afghanistan or Iraq, but
is instead an amorphous global war spanning perhaps decades to
come, the administration-ever mindful of political opportunities
to exploit-has continued to view our rights as collateral damage,
waging new attacks on civil liberties in the run-up to as well
as during the war on Iraq.
Yet war, particularly war for empire,
also breeds resistance. Despite the Bush administration's continued
steamrolling of our rights, the strength and scope of the movement
against the war on Iraq has helped give rise to a growing confidence
to challenge these attacks. This article will examine some of
the Bush administration's assaults on civil liberties since the
fall of 2002-and the growing resistance to this aspect of the
administration's "war at home."
What's in the act
What might have been the most sweeping
attempt to curtail civil liberties in the U.S. since the McCarthy
era was exposed when, in early February 2003, the Center for Public
Integrity leaked a draft of a Justice Department proposal for
the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003. The 120-page draft,
marked "Confidential-Not for Distribution" was dated
January 9, 2003, and contained a stunning list of proposals to
curtail civil liberties that shocked and outraged people across
This new draft was quickly dubbed the
"PATRIOT Act, Part II"-and this time, Attorney General
John Ashcroft's "Big Brother" proposals were even bigger.
Among them was Section 201, the "Prohibition of Disclosure
of Terrorism Investigation Detainee Information." Under this
new rule, the Justice Department would be legally allowed to refuse
to release information on suspected terrorists in government custody
through Freedom of Information Act requests. That means that people
like Rabih Haddad, the Muslim cleric who has been held in prison
for more than a year by the Justice Department on a minor immigration
violation as part of a terrorism investigation, could potentially
languish behind bars indefinitely without the government even
having to release their full names, let alone the charges they're
being held on. In other words, they would be presumed guilty until
Taking the "guilty until proven innocent"
idea a step further, another section of the draft legislation
would allow the government to create a "Terrorist Identification
Database" in which anyone suspected of having ties to groups
the U.S. State Department deems terrorist would be monitored.
This section of the draft legislation would allow the government
to forcibly take DNA samples from anyone that it believes is a
"suspected terrorist," creating a database of genetic
information to link suspects to crimes.
The biggest problem, of course, is that
the Justice Department's definition of terrorism is a bit looser
than most. Under the USA PATRIOT Act, you can be labeled a terrorist
for having an association with a member of a suspected terrorist
group, if you are suspected of certain crimes or if you have supported
any group that the State Department designates as terrorist-even
if that support came in the form of a donation to a charitable
organization that the government later judges to be a terrorist
The most disturbing proposal in the draft
would give the attorney general the right to "expatriate,"
or strip, any American citizen of their citizenship if "he
becomes a member of, or provides material support to, a group
that the United States has designated as a 'terrorist organization."
Again, however, because the Justice Department
has defined terrorism so broadly, it means that if a person made
a charitable donation to an organization that later ended up on
the State Department's terrorist list, they could be branded a
terrorist and stripped of their citizenship. U.S. citizens who
make donations to charities that may give some money to, for example,
left-wing rebels in Colombia or the Irish Republican Army, could
be labeled terrorists and stripped of their citizenship. It's
worth remembering that among the groups the U.S. once deemed terrorists
is the African National Congress-the leaders of the popular struggle
against South African apartheid and the current ruling party of
When the story broke about the proposal
for a new PATRIOT Act, John Ashcroft had the nerve to say that
the legislation is really about "protecting" our rights.
According to Ashcroft, there are "gaps" in U.S. Iaws
that were not addressed by the first PATRIOT Act. "Every
day I tell the staff at the Justice Department: 'Think anew. The
world is changing. What are the ways we can safeguard the American
people against attack?" Ashcroft went on to say. "I
say, 'Think outside the box,' but I always say, 'Think inside
the Constitution," Ashcroft said, trying to sound concerned
for our rights.
He's got to be kidding. If enacted, "PATRIOT
II" would shred Constitutional protections and strip millions
of hard-won rights. The U.S. would be sharing common policies
with some of the worst police states and human rights abusers
around the world-including the governments of countries on the
Bush administration's "axis of evil" hit-list. As the
San Francisco Chronicle pointed out in an editorial, "Secret
arrests? Expatriation because you belong to a suspicious political
group? Unchecked surveillance? These are instruments of repression,
used by totalitarian states."
Keeping the homeland safe with Big Brother's
When Bush signed the homeland security
bill into law in December, the idea-in theory, at least-was to
make us feel safer. But from top to bottom, Homeland Security
is designed to chip away at our civil liberties and paves the
way to for a huge increase in government snooping on ordinary
people in the U.S.
The most troubling program in the bill
was the "Total Information Awareness" (TIA) program,
a massive database that the government wants to use to monitor
financial transactions as well as other information about people
in the U.S. It would link a huge number of commercial and governmental
databases, both in America and overseas, that would combine consumer
information with visa records, passports, arrest records or reports
of suspicious activity given to law enforcement or intelligence
According to Katie Corrigan of the American
Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), it's potentially the most intrusive
domestic spying network in American history. "For the first
time, Americans can be tracked as they engage in mundane activities,"
Corrigan said. "It's a radical departure from the principle
that police can conduct surveillance only when there is evidence
Worse, the man that the Bush administration
chose to head up the project was none other than former Reagan
administration hack, Rear Admiral John Poindexter. A first-class
liar and crook, Poindexter is best known as former national security
adviser to President Reagan, where he took the fall for the plan
to sell arms to Iran in exchange for hostages, using the proceeds
to fund the ultra-right paramilitary Contras in Nicaragua.
The sheer arrogance of appointing Poindexter
to oversee such a sweeping, intrusive program was too much. Congress
stepped in to block funding for TIA in February, when Senator
Ron Wyden (D-OR) attached a provision to an omnibus spending bill
that prohibited the government from using the program to monitor
American citizens. However, under the terms of Wyden's provision,
the TIA program could still be used in support of lawful military
operations outside the United States and in support of lawful
foreign intelligence operations conducted within the U.S. against
non-citizens. Additionally, the Wyden amendment gives the President
the power to launch TIA if the administration decides that it's
"vital" to national security.
And the rest of the Homeland Security
department is just as bad when it comes to protecting our rights.
"If you like the idea of a government
agency that is 100 percent secret and 0 percent accountable, you'll
love the new Homeland Security Department," commented Timothy
Edgar, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. Among other things, any information
voluntarily submitted to the new department about terrorist threats
to the nation's infrastructure are exempt from Freedom of Information
Act disclosure, essentially eliminating the agency's responsibility
to answer public questions about how well it is addressing these
threats. Employees of the agency can be stripped of the protections
contained in the federal Whistleblower Protection Act, eliminating
guarantees that-if the agency engages in "questionable"
activities-it could be found out and held accountable to the public.
The legislation also lowers the threshold for Internet service
providers to comply with government authorities who want to monitor
email. "What this is talking about is making us a nation
of suspects," commented Chuck Pena, senior defense policy
analyst at the Cato Institute. "United States citizens should
not have to live in fear of their own government and that is exactly
what this is going to turn out to be."
The continued war on immigrants
For immigrants, the attacks have been
especially severe. As is well known by now, following the September
11 attacks, an estimated 1,200 immigrants were detained by authorities.
While hundreds were deported (mainly for minor immigration violations),
the U.S. government has held some detainees for prolonged periods
without charges, restricted their access to lawyers and subjected
them to improper interrogations and often physical and verbal
abuse as well. The Bush administration still refuses to disclose
the names of detainees-meaning that civil rights groups can't
be sure exactly how many people are languishing in prisons without
access to lawyers or to trials.
According to one report by the group Human
Rights Watch (HRW), there are also numerous cases in which random
encounters with police or even just neighbors' suspicions- based
on no more than national origin and religion-led to interrogation
about possible links to terrorism. As Jamie Fellner the director
of HRW's U.S. program said: "An immigration violation should
not give the government license to rip up the rule book. By restricting
judicial oversight and blocking public scrutiny, the government
has exercised virtually unchecked power over those it has detained."
The people bearing the brunt of this unchecked
power include men like Rabih Haddad, Sami Al-Arian, Enaam Arnaout,
Mike Hawash and untold numbers of Arabs and Muslims who have found
their lives under the Justice Department's microscope, and themselves
Al-Arian, for example, was arrested in
February 2003 with three others and charged with conspiracy and
racketeering for supposedly giving "material aid" to
the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, an organization that the State
Department has classified as a terrorist group. In late March,
the four men appeared before a federal magistrate in Florida to
request bail-and federal prosecutors pulled out all the stops
to convince the judge to keep the men behind bars indefinitely.
Witness after witness at the hearing described
how Al-Arian and the others are respected community leaders. In
fact, Al-Arian even met and had his picture taken with then-governor
George W. Bush on the presidential campaign trail in 2000!
That, of course, was back in the day when
Bush was courting the Arab and Muslim community for votes. Today,
his administration finds it more convenient to use them as scapegoats
in the war on terrorism. In this case, that's doubly true, since
Al-Arian and the three others support a cause which the U.S. government
is hostile to: an end to the brutal occupation of Palestinian
lands by Israel.
According to an affidavit from Al-Arian's
wife Nahla, her husband is allowed only one 1 5-minute telephone
call a month, is not allowed to call his attorney and is allowed
to change his underwear only once a week and his prison jumpsuit
every two weeks. Prison officials deny the allegations, but as
Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, told
the Tampa Tribune, the case represents "the disgusting raw
exercise of power by John Ashcroft.... How are we any safer restricting
the number of times during the week [Al-Arian] can change his
underpants? It is insane."
Nothing drove home the reality of the
Bush administration's witch-hunt against Arabs and Muslims as
much as when hundreds of men and boys were arrested after appearing
at the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) for "voluntary"
registration. The National Security Entry-Exit Registration System,
implemented after September 11, requires men over the age of 16
with temporary visas from a number of countries to register with
the INS. December 16 was the deadline to register for those from
Iraq, Iran, Syria, Sudan and Libya. When they went to register,
as many as 700 people, many of them Iranians living in southern
California, were arrested. That's because some INS officers decided
to arrest anyone with an immigration "irregularity,"
despite the fact that current immigration law gives immigrants
who have overstayed their visas the right to have their status
regularized by paying a fine and going through a hearing if they
have family ties in the U.S., a job and a clean record.
As thousands of immigrants and activists
gathered outside the Los Angeles Federal Building to protest the
arrests, INS community relations officer Jorge Swank had the nerve
to tell the crowd: "We feel your pain." Yet Swank knows
nothing about the pain of Shahin Hajizadeh, who described being
beaten by police-or the many others who said they ended up in
crowded cells, forced to rest standing up in the frigid cold.
And Swank doesn't know anything about the pain of the pregnant
Gisroo Mohajeri, whose 16-year-old son Hossein Ahmadi was arrested
after he had gone to register at his mother's insistence. As Hussam
Ayloush, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic
Relations of Southern California, asked the crowd at one protest
against the registrations: "Are you going to deport us all?"
Despite a wave of protests, the INS maintained
its registration deadlines over the following months for men from
the United Arab Emirates, North Korea, Morocco, Afghanistan Pakistan,
Saudi Arabia and several other countries.
Some 580,000 foreign students studying
in the U.S. have also come under fire from the federal government.
In late January, the Student and Exchange Visitor Information
System (SEVIS), a mandatory program linking all colleges and universities
that enroll international students to the Department of Homeland
Security, was rolled out.
There's just one problem: the $36 million
system designed to keep tabs on international students is full
of glitches and malfunctions. University of Colorado student Yashar
Zendehdel, for example, was one of six Colorado students arrested
and threatened with deportation in late January because they had
failed to take the full INS-required 12 hours of college credit
per semester. In Zendehdel's case, college advisers had recommended
that he drop a class for academic reasons. "I really get
mad thinking about what happened to me," Zendehdel told the
Rocky Mountain Collegian. "I came here because of the higher
standards of higher education, but if they want to continue like
this, I'm not sure I want to go on."
The war on Iraq and the war on immigrants
As the war on Iraq began, the federal
government stepped up its attack on immigrants. In March, the
FBI began conducting voluntary interviews with more than 50,000
Iraqi nationals living in the U.S. According to the ACLU, frightened
Iraqis, many of whom fled Saddam Hussein's government, were calling
to ask if they might be imprisoned or deported.
The FBI set up meetings with local Islamic
groups across the country to ask for support in identifying terrorists
and to promise FBI protection against hate crimes. At the same
time however, one FBI official said that any Iraqi found to have
an immigration violation would be thrown in jail. "It is
ironic that the government is promising to protect Iraqis against
hate crimes, which are attacks based on a person's ethnicity,
skin color or religion-in other words, the very kind of profiling
the government is resorting to," said the ACLU's Dalia Hashad.
In addition to increased government surveillance
of Iraqis in the U.S., there's also the stunningly misnamed "Operation
Liberty Shield"-the Department of Homeland Security program
that was announced as the war began. Supposedly a way of protecting
the U.S. from potential terrorist attacks, Liberty Shield increased
border patrols and air space restrictions. The cornerstone of
the operation, however, was the blanket detention of all new immigrants
from approximately 30 undisclosed countries while they seek asylum
in the U.S. "It's unfortunate that some people truly seeking
asylum may be detained," Homeland Security official William
Strassberger told the Los Angeles Times, "but I think it's
a small price to pay"
The war on Iraq and the war on activists
In addition to immigrants, activists-specifically
antiwar activists-who oppose the Bush administration's policies
have also come under fire.
In one of the most outlandish cases, Bernadette
Devlin McAliskey, a former member of British parliament and longtime
opponent of British rule in Northern Ireland, was detained in
February by immigration officials in Chicago and denied entry
into the U.S., supposedly because she constitutes a risk to "national
security." '7 McAliskey was denied access to a lawyer and
put back on a plane to Ireland. Although the Bush administration
never admitted why McAliksey was suddenly denied entry into the
U.S-after travelling here for more than 30 years without incident-it's
likely to have had something to do with the outspoken activist's
statements against the Bush administration's war drive.
Home-grown activists have received their
share of government intrusion as well-in particular, anyone daring
to stand in opposition to the war on Iraq. For the Bush administration,
scaring activists into silence is, if perhaps not a stated aim
of their crackdown on civil liberties, clearly a benefit they
were hoping to reap.
In Denver, for example, antiwar activists
learned late last year that police had created "spy files"
on more than 3,000 activists and 200 civic organizations for their
organizing activities or participation in rallies. The American
Friends Service Committee, a group of Quaker pacifists, is among
the groups labeled "criminal extremists" by Denver police.
In early April, New York City police admitted
that they had created a database of peace activists gathered from
information obtained through the use of a debriefing form that
antiwar protesters were made to fill out after arrests at demonstrations.
Though police claim that they destroyed the database and suspended
the debriefing procedure, the disclosure came just weeks after
a judge lifted decades-long restrictions on the New York Police
Department's ability to spy on political groups.
In Oakland, California, police showed
their contempt for both antiwar activists and workers, when they
carried out a brutal attack, shooting wooden bullets and tossing
concussion grenades at peaceful antiwar protesters and union dockworkers.
On April 7, when 500 activists had set up a picket on Oakland
docks at the terminals of American Presidential Lines, a military
cargo shipper, and Stevedoring Services of America-which had been
picked to run the docks in Umm Qasr after the Iraq war-members
of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) decided
that they wouldn't cross the picket line. The ILWU believed that
the police presence represented a threat to their members' health
and safety-and therefore closed down the morning shift.
Police charged into peaceful picketers
and union members on motorcycles, throwing concussion grenades
and firing with wooden blocks. Ultimately, police arrested 24
protesters, including an ILWU Local 10 business agent. As Steve
Stallone, an ILWU spokesperson, said, "Clearly this was an
inappropriate use of force. The police shot the union workers
they were supposedly there to protect. If they'd wanted to keep
people away from the docks, they could have just put up a barricade
a half mile away. They never needed to shoot at what was clearly
a nonviolent action."
It's no coincidence that cops would choose
to fire on a picket being honored by the ILWU. Last C year, as
the ILWU was preparing for contract negotiations, Homeland Security
Tsar Tom Ridge threatened union officials that any dockworkers'
strike would be banned on national security grounds.
Guantanamo: A prison camp-for children
As much as our rights at home are under
attack, for those who are prisoners of the U.S. war machine abroad,
things are worse. According to a Washington Post report:
In the course of one week in mid-February,
three detainees tried to kill themselves, raising the number of
suicide attempts to 19 since detainees were brought to the island
in January 2002. Nine of those attempts have been recorded since
The suicide attempts-most by hanging
using clothes or bedsheets-involve 16 detainees. Three have made
multiple attempts. . .
"As far as they know, they're going
to be there forever," said Michael Ratner, president of the
New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights. "It must
give people a sense of desperation.... This is like a Devil's
Ratner questioned whether stress caused
by aggressive interrogation techniques might have contributed
to the suicide attempts.
In a disgusting turn of events, the U.S.
military was forced to admit in April that at least three children
between 1 3 and 15 years old were being held as "enemy combatants"
at the U.S. prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Last year, Defense
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters that all of the detainees
at Guantanamo's Camp X-Ray "have been brought here because
they are considered individuals that ought not to be out on the
street with the possibility that they could kill somebody else."
Turns out, he was including children in that category.
Defending the kids' detainment, a U.S.
spokesman told Britain's Guardian that the boys are housed separately-and
are receiving better treatment than the other prisoners. Yet the
fact that 13-year-olds can be flown thousands of miles from their
homes and thrown behind bars at a place that Britain's Daily Telegraph
described last year as resembling "a Second World War prison
camp" is sickening. Because the U.S. continues to refuse
to classify the detainees in Guantanamo as "prisoners of
war"-which would entitle them to certain rights under the
Geneva Convention-the children will remain locked up indefinitely,
without access to a lawyer.
In March, in response to a lawsuit brought
on behalf of a group of detainees by the Center for Constitutional
Rights, a panel of judges ruled unanimously that the men being
held in Guantanamo Bay, have no right to challenge their detention
in court. Since the 16 detainees who brought the lawsuit have
never technically entered U.S. territory, the appeals court ruled
that they "cannot seek release based on violations of the
Constitution or treaties or federal law; the courts are not open
According to the court, since Cuba technically
owns the land the base is on, the case would have to be decided
in a Cuban court-as if the Bush administration would ever allow
the Cuban government to decide the issue!
In essence, the ruling means that the
more than 660 detainees at Guantanamo can spend the rest of their
lives in jail-with no rights.
Time to resist
Today, as bleak and as all-encompassing
as these attacks on our rights may seem, however, there is plenty
of evidence to suggest that more and more ordinary people are
beginning to reject the Bush administration's rhetoric. While
the war on Iraq produced a growing antiwar movement that began
to take up questions of imperialism, so too, the crackdown on
civil liberties has begun to produce resistance. The resistance
can be strengthened by exposing the hypocrisy of an administration
that trumpets "democracy" and "liberation"
while attacking the rights of its own citizens. The Bush administration
drops bombs on civilians in Iraq and calls it "peace"
while it chops away our rights and calls it "security."
It's this sentiment that has not only
led to the curtailing of the TIA program, as mentioned earlier,
but has also breathed the first signs of life into the question
of civil liberties-even from some congressional Democrats, most
of whom rolled over and gave in to the Bush administration's hatchet
job on our rights since September 11. In April, when Congressional
Republicans announced that they wanted to make the original USA
PATRIOT Act permanent, stripping out the "sunset" provision
that would make portions of the law expire automatically in 2005,
Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) vowed to fight it, saying that he and other
Democrats "would be very strongly opposed to any repeal"
of the 2005 limit.
That's tough talk, considering that only
one Democratic senator, Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), could muster up
enough guts to vote against the act when it was first passed.
However, it's a welcome sign that the Democrats are starting to
feel the pressure from below from ordinary people beginning to
speak out and organize to defend our rights.
On a grassroots level, many communities
are beginning to respond more quickly and in more force when one
of their own comes under attack. For example, when peace activist
Stephen Downs was arrested in March for refusing to remove a T-shirt
with a peace slogan while at the Crossgates Mall in Albany, N.Y.,
local activists responded by holding a demonstration at the mall-complete
with protesters decked out in antiwar T-shirts and buttons. Due
to public outrage over the incident, the charges were later dropped
against Downs-a small but important victory, and one that can
help give others the courage to speak out when they encounter
similar harassment. In Oakland, several hundred protesters, including
union members, rallied against the police attack on demonstrators
and dockworkers, marching under the labor slogan: "An injury
to one is an injury to all."
Other signs are hopeful as well. The proposed
legislation for PATRIOT Part II provoked such a howl of outrage
from civil rights groups and activists that, so far, the Bush
administration has not had the confidence to push forward to make
the new measures into law.
And nearly every day there are examples
of open rebellion at compliance with the conditions of the first
PATRIOT Act. Many rebellious librarians and bookstore clerks,
concerned about possible government snooping, have taken to shredding
computer logs and reader information in open defiance. Additionally,
more than 20 cities have passed resolutions barring municipal
employees (librarians and police included) from collaborating
with federal officials who may try to use the PATRIOT Act to investigate
The only way to combat government repression
and attacks on civil liberties is to build a movement capable
of withstanding these attacks: a movement that is large, that
takes up key political questions such as how to defend and organize
alongside of immigrants, and that connects the fight for civil
liberties to the larger fight for a society that is not run by
the elite few. In the weeks and months to come, we need to send
a message that however the Bush administration may try to trample
our rights, they cannot crush out the spirit of resistance to
their vicious policies-whether at home or abroad.
Nicole Colson is a reporter for Socialist