Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Terrorism, Good Intentions and the Erosion of Civil Liberties

Several readers (Jon. H. and U. Doran) sent me this highly disturbing essay by Paul Craig Roberts,
Thinking For Yourself Is Now A Crime on a new Federal "anti-terrorism" law which is poised to become law: Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007 (HR 1955).

Here is the core of the proposed law (full text available on the link above)

(1) COMMISSION- The term `Commission' means the National Commission on the Prevention of Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism established under section 899C.

(2) VIOLENT RADICALIZATION- The term `violent radicalization' means the process of adopting or promoting an extremist belief system for the purpose of facilitating ideologically based violence to advance political, religious, or social change.

(3) HOMEGROWN TERRORISM- The term `homegrown terrorism' means the use, planned use, or threatened use, of force or violence by a group or individual born, raised, or based and operating primarily within the United States or any possession of the United States to intimidate or coerce the United States government, the civilian population of the United States, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.

(4) IDEOLOGICALLY BASED VIOLENCE- The term `ideologically based violence' means the use, planned use, or threatened use of force or violence by a group or individual to promote the group or individual's political, religious, or social beliefs.

`(1) FINAL REPORT- Not later than 18 months after the date on which the Commission first meets, the Commission shall submit to the President and Congress a final report of its findings and conclusions, legislative recommendations for immediate and long-term countermeasures to violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism, and ideologically based violence, and measures that can be taken to prevent violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism, and ideologically based violence from developing and spreading within the United States, and any final recommendations for any additional grant programs to support these purposes. The report may also be accompanied by a classified annex.

Here is what Mr. Roberts has to say about the proposal law, which already passed the House of Representatives 404 to 6:

"Harman's bill is called the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act. When HR 1955 becomes law, it will create a commission tasked with identifying extremist people, groups, and ideas. The commission will hold hearings around the country, taking testimony and compiling a list of dangerous people and beliefs. The bill will, in short, create massive terrorism in the United States. But the perpetrators of terrorism will not be Muslim terrorists; they will be government agents and fellow citizens.

This search for extremist views comes after President Bush and the Justice (sic) Department declared that the President can ignore habeas corpus, ignore the Geneva Conventions, seize people without evidence, hold them indefinitely without presenting charges, torture them until they confess to some made up crime, and take over the government by declaring an emergency. Of course, none of these "patriotic" views are extremist."

Just to refresh our collective memories, here is the text of Amendments I, IV, VI and IX of the Bill of Rights, part of the U.S. Constitution:

Amendment I
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Amendment IV
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Amendment VI
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

Amendment IX
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Let's start with Amendment IX. Allow me to paraphrase it: all rights not mentioned specifically by the Constitution do not default to the government, which can then restrict or grant such rights to the citizenry; all rights default to the citizenry except as defined by the Constitution.

Example: the right to have private conversations or electronic correspondence free from government eavesdropping. That right appears to have "defaulted" to the government, as domestic surveillance is now a de facto "right" of the government as it now needs to "root around and see what we can find that smells like domestic terrorism." Isn't this a clear violation of Amendment IV?

On the face of it, this commission sounds rather harmless, doesn't it? After all, all reasonable people agree that "the use, planned use, or threatened use, of force or violence by a group or individual" against the nation and/or its citizenry is a bad thing.

But wait a minute: what the heck is an "extremist belief system"? Here's how the proposed law reads:

The term `violent radicalization' means the process of adopting or promoting an extremist belief system for the purpose of facilitating ideologically based violence to advance political, religious, or social change.

Gee, doesn't this sound like a good description of Communism? And do we all recall how the "Red Scare" transmogrified into the House on UnAmerican Activities Committee?

Here is how the Committee "took care of" any "UnAmerican" activity it dredged up:

In 1947, the committee held nine days of hearings into alleged Communist propaganda and influence in the Hollywood motion picture industry. After conviction on contempt of Congress charges for refusal to answer some questions posed by committee members, the "Hollywood Ten" were blacklisted by the industry. Eventually, more than 300 artists— including directors, radio commentators, actors and particularly screenwriters— were boycotted by the studios. Some, like Charlie Chaplin, left the US to find work. Others wrote under pseudonyms or the names of colleagues. Only about ten percent succeeded in rebuilding careers within the entertainment industry.

In May 1960, the Committee held hearings in San Francisco that led to the infamous "riot" at City Hall when on May 13th, 1960, San Francisco Police fire-hosed students from Berkeley, Stanford and other local colleges down the steps beneath the rotunda.

The committee lost considerable prestige after it subpoenaed Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman of the Yippies in 1967, and again in the aftermath of the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Unlike previous subjects of the committee's investigations, the Yippies neither respected nor feared the committee, and used media attention to make a mockery of the proceedings. Rubin came to one session dressed as an American Revolutionary War soldier, and passed out copies of the United States Declaration of Independence to people in attendance. Then Rubin "blew giant gum bubbles while his co-witnesses taunted the committee with Nazi salutes."

In the fifties, the most effective sanction was terror. (emphasis added CHS) Almost any publicity from HUAC meant the 'blacklist.' Without a chance to clear his name, a witness would suddenly find himself without friends and without a job. But it is not easy to see how in 1969 a HUAC blacklist could terrorize an SDS activist. Witnesses like Jerry Rubin have openly boasted of their contempt for American institutions. A subpoena from HUAC would be unlikely to scandalize Abbie Hoffman or his friends."

Hmm, does this ring any alarms about where a "harmless commission" can go all too quickly?

You may have noticed the photo of me in the upper left corner of this page dates from 1973. This is the time period when the F.B.I. was hounding me and arresting some of my colleagues for alleged violations of theSelective Service System , , a.k.a. the Draft, which was squeaked into law in 1940 by a one-vote margin in 1940.

Some believe the the Constitution does not grant the government the right to invoke involuntary servitude, i.e. the Draft. This "right to obligate all young males to serve their government in unpopular overseas wars" has been sanctioned many times by the Supreme Court, so it is now the accepted law of the land.

Back in this time frame, the F.B.I. devoted an extraordinarily large percentage of its resources and staffing to the "domestic terrorism" of the day, the anti-draft and anti-war movement. What this meant was the gutting of any anti-Mafia/Organized Crime efforts by the Bureau; the "big show" was nailing those draft resisters and activists.

Let me explain how this works. Some radicals burn down a ROTC building somewhere in the U.S. Gee, I'm against that kind of violence, but so what? You're against the Draft, and the war, then you are obviously on the same side as those guys who burned down the ROTC building, an act of domestic terrorist violence.

Here is a snippet of my own experience with the F.B.I. during its last rampage seeking "domestic terrorism" circa 1968-74. This is excerpted from my personal account of that era, Among the Best of Friends.

Please note I had complied with the Selective Service Act; I had not burned my Draft Card or engaged in any violent resistance. My "crime" was being a volunteer with that hotbed of "domestic terrorism," the Quaker-inspired, deeply non-violent American Friends Service Committee. (Please also note the Quakers are Christians. So much for thinking your religious affiliation and piety will protect you.)

"So the following day I received a call at home (I was 18, living at home) from the FBI. The agent was very aggressive, reminding me that aiding and abetting a draft resister was a crime with a 5-year prison term. My diffidence must have annoyed him—of course I was terrified, but why let him know it?—because he said, and I remember this verbatim: "This isn’t the Sunshine Biscuit Company, you know. This is the FBI." He was also kind enough to remind me that they "knew where I lived" and threatened to come up and interrogate me right then.

It should be noted that Draft boards held great power in their communities, and there were media-reported instances of drunk drivers who happened to be Draft Board members threatening Police officers with being drafted and sent to ‘Nam if they didn’t let them off with a warning."

So this is where "good intentions" to "root out domestic terrorism" lead you: an out-of-control police state with agencies running wild over the rights of the citizenry-- all done "legally" and with the the passive compliance of all the "good citizens."

Readers Journal has been updated Check out all the new opinions and reports. This is another banner week of thoughtful, provocative (and even some zany) ideas.

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