Bringing Back McCarthyism

"Counter-Terrorism" Bill Will Legalize New Terror Against the People

Refuse & Resist!

This essay was originally published in the March/April '96 issue of Counterattack


Bringing Back McCarthyism

"We can intensify the fight against terrorists and organized criminals at home and abroad, if Congress passes the anti-terrorism legislation I proposed after the Oklahoma City bombing -- now." - Bill Clinton, January 1996 State of the Union address

Apparently, what the President was talking about in this extremely brief reference to one real scary piece of legislation is the Omnibus Counter-terrorism Act of 1995. The bill was not his response to the Oklahoma City bombing, although pretending it is will make it easier for many to swallow. In fact, this sweeping piece of legislation was in the works by the end of 1994.

In January of 1995, President Clinton declared 12 organizations to be terrorist and froze their assets. This act also authorized the Secretary of State to add others to the blacklist without review and to bar U.S. citizens from providing any aid to the designated organizations.

In February, 1995, the administration unveiled legislation in the form of the "Omnibus Counter Terrorism Act of 1995" that will make such blacklisting by the executive branch a regular activity and will criminalize previously legal political association in the U.S.

The House and Senate considered separate versions of this so-called Counter-terrorism legislation during the summer and fall, after the Republicans presented their own, somewhat less restrictive version, and the various bills and amendments are now in committee.

All of the versions under consideration give the government official new powers to terrorize immigrants and citizens that mirror and codify the anti-communist crusades of the 1950s.

Here are some of the most dangerous provisions of the bills:

Sweeping power for the Executive branch to designate any organization as terrorist under an extremely broad definition and with no meaningful judicial review.

The definition of terrorist in the immigration provisions has two parts: 1. "Any unlawful use of fire arm or weapon with intent to endanger property or person." 2. The group's terrorism activities "threaten the national security, foreign policy or economy of the U.S." This is so broad that it could only be applied selectively, and acts that could fall under this include spray-painting a federal building or shooting at a highway sign, or even conspiring to shoot at a highway sign.

One version does provide for appeal to DC district court, but a decision by such a court against the President is extremely unlikely.

Guilt by association. The bills authorize the deportation of immigrants and imprisonment of citizens based on their political association. Current law already outlaws support for terrorist activity, in the U.S. and abroad, but this law would make it a federal crime to donate money for humanitarian aid to any group associated with an organization the President has named as terrorist. What about donations to humanitarian efforts by groups the government has labeled "terrorist," like money for medicine and food for Palestinians? Not allowed. The rationale is that money is fungible. Money donated to buy food and medical supplies could free up funds for the supposed "terrorist" activities. The only provision for such donations demands that the group and the individual donating money open their books to the US government and then get licensed. This constitutes prior restraint

As lawyer David Cole pointed out in testimony against the legislation, if the President named the Girl Scouts as a terrorist organization, then buying Girl Scout cookies would become a federal crime.

Secret evidence. For immigrants, deportation hearings by a special 5-justice court would be carried out in secret and immigrants could be deported under this act for lawful political activity. Evidence against the person being charged and the source of that evidence could be secret. This puts the burden of proof on the accused AND eliminates the ability of the accused or the defense lawyer to mount a defense. There is no provision for suppression of evidence by the defense, the lawyer cannot participate in an appeal and the person charged is subject to immediate detention without bail. Secret evidence can also be used against citizens with penalties starting at 10 years imprisonment.

This type of judicial procedure is called an inquisition and is just what the current legal system here was developed to change.

Reinstatement of the Exclusionary Rule. This rule, overturned in the Immigration Act of 1990, provided for exclusion of immigrants from legal status in the U.S. based on their political beliefs. The earlier form of the exclusionary rule was aimed at keeping communists from entering the U.S.

Expanded powers for the FBI. The legislation turns a lot of currently legal political activity into a federal crime. Over $1.8 billion would be allotted to enforce this legislation and it not only opens the way for a COINTELPRO-style operation, but demands the maintenance of this type of government activity. It authorizes the hiring of 1,000 new federal agents, prosecutors, and other law enforcement personnel, repeals all older provisions barring the U.S. military from civilian law enforcement and expands the government's legal access to phone taps, phone company records, credit records, etc.

Restriction of current Habeus Corpus laws. Prisoners sent to death row in state courts would have one (1) year to appeal and could only appeal at the federal level. This apparently unrelated provision comes at a time when the death penalty is being revived as a solution to crime and several recent death penalty cases have revealed years of wrongful imprisonment for some owing to misconduct on the part of the courts and the cops. Could this be applied retroactively? It COULD be.

What does it Mean?

The first target of this legislation is support in the U.S. for liberation struggles abroad, which often takes the form of donations to humanitarian efforts. The ANC of South Africa was once considered by the U.S. government to be a "terrorist" organization and, under this bill, donations to Nelson Mandela's tour of the U.S. a few years ago would have been illegal. This in itself is some major hypocrisy from a government for which sponsoring the Contras in an effort to overthrow the government of Nicaragua is just the tip of the iceberg.

Of course, this bill targets immigrants first. The U.S. deported more than 51,000 people last year. Immigrants are the new scapegoats for politicians and open racists and there are already "detention" centers in many parts of the U.S. holding people who have no access to lawyers, their families or their allies among the people of the U.S.

And the bill also opens the way for much more. Blacklisting of groups and prosecution using secret evidence would create a situation where pretty much all political association can be suspect. Will some political groups resist working with others for fear of labels the government might apply to them? Will individuals fear being associated with political groups, since they will never know all of the affiliations of other members of the groups or what the government will target next under this legislation? This is a real application of "terrorism."

So far, we have not heard much publicity for the "Counter-Terrorism" bill, and, because of its name, people are unlikely to think it ever COULD apply to them. It has to be exposed and fought now.

What Can We Do?

Stand by immigrants. Counter all anti-immigrant initiatives from "English Only" to the idea that immigrants are taking away what "belongs" to American citizens. Point out the hypocrisy of using borders to divide people while corporations freely cross those same borders to exploit workers in other countries. Organize events and sticker and poster campaigns to spread support for those who are under attack because of lack of "citizenship." Popularize the "Illegal" button (a blue triangle on a black background) as a symbol of this stance. Order the buttons from the National Office of Refuse & Resist!. 305 Madison Ave. Suite 1166, New York, NY 10165 212-713-5657.

Educate people on the "Counter-terrorism" legislation and the "terrorism" by the government that it will legalize: attacks on support for liberation struggles abroad, attacks on immigrants, attacks on all political association.

Ask this question in a big way: Who are the real terrorists? The targets of this legislation or those who will use and support it?


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