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The following is an excerpt of Matthew Rothschild's "You Have No Rights: Stories of America in an Age of Repression" (The New Press, 2007).
To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists. ... They give ammunition to America's enemies, and pause to America's friends.
-- former attorney general John Ashcroft
You're either with us or against us. -- George W. Bush
Today's America is a much less free place than the America of 2000. Following the attacks of September 11, 2001, the Bush administration has, by word and by deed, erected an edifice of repression here in the United States.
We've been living in it ever since. And it's not a comfortable place. The government is monitoring your phone calls and can read your e-mails and open your snail mail.
The government can access records of your large financial transactions, such as buying a house.
Law enforcement officers can bust into your home when you're not there, riffle through your belongings, plant a recording device on your computer, and leave without notifying you for at least thirty days -- and maybe a lot more.
You no longer have the right to protest where the president or vice president can see you, or at major public events when they aren't even present.
Law enforcement officers can now monitor you in public if you are merely exercising your political rights.
They can infiltrate your political organizations.
And they can keep track of you at your place of worship. The government can find out from bookstores and libraries the material you've been reading, and the bookstore owner and the librarian can't talk about it, except to their lawyers, for a whole year -- or more.
The government can hold you in preventive detention for months on end as a "material witness."
If you're not a citizen the government can deport you on a technicality or for mere political association.
If you're not a citizen the government can label you an "enemy combatant" and send you to secret prisons around the world, where you may never see the light of day again -- much less a lawyer or a judge. And even if you are a citizen, the government can label you an enemy combatant and hold you in solitary confinement here in the United States.
Under George W. Bush's interpretation of the president's powers during the so-called war on terror he can do just about whatever he wants. He cites the Authorization for Use of Military Force bill, which Congress passed on September 18, 2001, as the justification for this enormous leeway.
"Congress gave me the authority to use necessary force to protect the American people, but it didn't prescribe the tactics,"Bush said in a speech at Kansas State University on January 23, 2006. Those tactics, he presumes, are totally up to him. Under this rationale Bush could send F-16s to attack a residential area in, say, Indianapolis if he thought Al Qaeda suspects were there.
Lest you think I'm exaggerating, check out the February 13, 2006, issue of Newsweek:
A Justice Department official suggested that in certain circumstances, the President might have the power to order the killing of terrorist suspects inside the United States. ... Steven Bradbury, acting head of the department's office of Legal Counsel, went to a closed-door Senate Intelligence committee meeting last week to defend President George W. Bush's surveillance program. During the briefing, said Administration and Capitol Hill officials (who declined to be identified because the session was private), California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein asked Bradbury questions about the ex- tent of Presidential powers to fight Al Qaeda; could Bush, for instance, order the killing of a Qaeda suspect known to be on U.S. soil? Bradbury replied that he believed Bush could indeed do this, at least in certain circumstances.
Yes, the U.S. government has a primary obligation to protect us all from another attack. But there needs to be a legal limit; there needs to be a respect for our Constitution and our liberties. Otherwise, as Senator Russ Feingold pointed out, "this country won't be America."
What the Bush administration did after 9/11 was not to engage in precise police work to find any would-be terrorists in our midst. Instead, it issued edicts and enacted laws that curtailed all of our freedoms. And it cast a gigantic dragnet over Arabs and Muslims in this country, treating many of them with a de facto presumption of guilt. To put those experiences in context we need to examine how the Bush administration constructed the edifice of repression.
It got the job done, in part, by blasting those who dared to dissent. When the president's former press secretary Ari Fleischer told people they should "watch what they say" after comedian Bill Maher on ABC's Politically Incorrect dared to question the label of "cowards" that Bush had slapped on the suicide bombers, it sent a message. As did the canceling of Maher's show. As did Bush's repeated assertion that "you're either with us or against us."
Matthew Rothschild is the editor of The Progressive and author of "You Have No Rights: Stories of America in an Age of Repression" (The New Press, 2007).