by Chisun Lee
April 1, 2003
An ugly theory popped up in the nation´s capital several
weeks ago. The Bush administration would wait until war began, and worry
gripped the homeland, to ram a staggering package of domestic security measures
through a Congress silenced by fears of seeming unpatriotic. Such measures
would radically expand the executive branch powers already inflated by the
2001 USA Patriot Act.
On Friday-as the U.S. began suffering combat fatalities, and
the terror alert on whitehouse.gov glared orange for "high"-Justice
Department spokesperson Mark Corallo confirmed to the Voice that such measures
were coming soon. Exact details are confined to "internal deliberations,"
he said, but the proposals "will be filling in the holes" of the
Patriot Act, "refining things that will enable us to do our job."
But a new, comprehensive review of Bush´s growing presidential
power hardly reveals any "holes." Rather-using court positions,
internal policy changes, and secret decisions as bricks-the administration
has built the executive branch into a fortress, nearly invulnerable to the
checks of the judiciary and Congress. Most alarming, according to the watchdog
authors of the 96-page report, "Imbalance of Powers," the complexity
of this historic expansion continues to mask its true proportions.
"You have to connect the dots," said Elisa Massimino,
Washington, D.C., director of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights (LCHR),
a 25-year nonprofit defender of civil liberties and humane policy. LCHR
analyzed hundreds of pages of legislation, policy directives, and congressional
records, plus a spate of major court cases such as the suit challenging
the indefinite detention, without representation, of accused American "dirty
bomber" Jose Padilla. The big picture shows an "executive branch
amassing so much more power," said Massimino, even in the past six
months alone. But since many developments have occurred "under the
radar," she said, few members of Congress, let alone of the public,
could easily map out such a blueprint on their own.
Briefly, the dots connect like this:
The administration´s refusal to release Patriot Act-related
records to Congress, the refusal to release the names of detainees and open
their court hearings to the public, and the Freedom of Information Act exemptions
under the Homeland Security Act add up to a secretive government, acting
outside the scrutiny of the public and its representatives.
The development of the Total Information Awareness program,
the mining of individuals´ shopping and library records, and the melding
of spy and arrest functions add up to government invasion of privacy and
restriction of expression.
The indefinite detention of U.S. citizens deemed by Bush to
be "enemy combatants," the secret detention and deportation of
immigrants not charged with a crime, and the tracking and questioning of
nationals from particular countries add up to unilateral executive power
to deprive people of their physical liberty.
Even with the existing behemoth, Massimino said, a "quantum
leap" in executive branch authority is possible. She referred to the
recently leaked Justice Department draft bill, the Domestic Security Enhancement
Act of 2003, commonly known as Patriot Act II. "It would make over
100 changes to existing law," she said. But as recently as March 4,
Attorney General John Ashcroft was being coy about it, refusing to discuss
any of the 86-page draft at a Senate hearing.
Among the more extreme powers Patriot Act II would grant the
executive branch: The ability to strip citizenship from an American who
supports a group the feds label as terrorist. Secret arrests-the government
could avoid revealing the location of, charges against, and evidence on
someone it was holding. Far looser checks on search-and-seizure activities
of law enforcement. And a DNA database for people deemed to be terrorist
Yale Law School professor Jack Balkin was among the first
constitutional experts to condemn Patriot Act II as "a new assault
on our civil liberties." Last week he told the Voice, "What we´re
really worried about here is something being proposed while all eyes are
on Iraq. People are whipped up into a frenzy. The executive will propose
what, at a certain time, it thinks it can get away with." That, he
said, could be the draft bill "in its most virulent form."
Before the war began, there were signs that Congress might
fight future presidential power-hogging and bring more heft to the legislative
branch. Some Democrats excoriated Ashcroft for his furtiveness on Patriot
Act II. Some Republicans were talking about subpoenaing records that the
Justice Department refused to release on its use of Patriot Act I powers.
Yet wartime has traditionally meant deferring to the executive.
The entire post-September 11 period may have seemed like one big state of
war, with the Justice Department successfully skirting Congress and pushing
every constitutional challenge to higher, more administration-friendly courts.
But given the actual war in Iraq, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said
last week, Americans can expect that "protections [of their individual
rights] will be ratcheted right down to the constitutional minimum."
Ashcroft deflected angry Senate queries on Patriot Act II,
saying "it would be the height of absurdity" to imagine the administration´s
hustling through a law without congressional review. Yet on October 25,
2001, 98 out of 99 voting senators hurriedly passed the 342-page Patriot
Act I-without any public debate and before most of them had read it. The
White House made clear their votes would be spun as a test of their patriotism.
Votes on Patriot Act II could also be a test-of who has the patriotism to
right democracy´s severely lopsided structure of checks and balances.
The so called "Patriot Act" is no such thing. It
deprives US citizens of thier Constitutional Rights and almost completely
eliminates the Bill of Rights. Based upon this so called law, even voicing
your opinion of the President and his staff wether pro or con could get
you labeled as a terrorist. Commit a civil infraction such as a parking
ticket and you could be label a terrorist. Congregate peacefully at your
local church and you could get labeled as a terrorist. The entirety of thier
description of what constitutes terrorism or a terrorist is so broad and
ill defined that just heaving a sigh at a public bar while watching a news
broadcast of the supposed "war for the liberation of Iraq" could
get you arrested as a terrorist. Many gov watching agencies are having absolute
fits over this so called law.
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