The sequel is worse than the original:

Patriot Act II

by Nicole Colson

International Socialist Review, May-June 2003


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 the country.

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 proven innocent.

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 group.

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 South Africa.

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 help

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 services.

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 of wrongdoing."

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 behind bars.

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 mid-January.

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 Island."

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 to them."

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 city residents.

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 Worker newspaper.

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