Nine months after the expertly coordinated terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon killed more than 3,000 people and tore the heart out of New York City, the Bush administration appears to pose a greater threat to civil liberties and domestic programs than it does to Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda.
After all, bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda lieutenants are believed to be holed up in the lawless Northwest Frontier of Pakistan, under the protection of Pashtun warlords who answer to neither the Pakistan army nor US Special Forces. Meanwhile, James Ridgeway of the Village Voice notes that right-wing lawyers supplied to the Bush administration by the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation are seizing the initiative to rewrite rules to provide local police with sweeping federal authority, push the military and CIA directly into everyday domestic politics, and sanction indefinite detention without a charge or court hearing, even for US citizens.
Bush's Justice Department arrogantly argues that its decisions to lock up prisoners indefinitely should not be subject to judicial review. In the case of Yaser Esam Hamdi, the US-born man captured with Taliban forces in Afghanistan and now held incommunicado at a Navy brig in Norfolk, the Bush administration argues that those declared enemy combatants in the war on terrorism have no right to counsel and can be held indefinitely, even if they are US citizens.
Don't look for help from US Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who told federal judges meeting in Williamsburg, Va., June 14, the courts are inclined to bend the law in the government's favor during hostilities. "In time of war, the laws are silent," he said, according to the Los Angeles Times. He cited as examples President Abraham Lincoln's suspension of the right to habeas corpus during the Civil War as well as the Supreme Court's willingness to uphold the internment of Japanese Americans and the secret military trial of eight Nazi saboteurs during World War II. Of course, in those cases, the US actually was in a state of war, a status that is lacking in the current actions against Al-Qaeda and other allied groups.
The White House has been skillful in tamping down public questions about the numerous instances of pre-9/11 warnings about Al-Qaeda plans. It upstaged testimony of whistleblowing FBI Special Agent Coleen Rowley June 6 when Bush reversed positions and called for a new Department of Homeland Security. Then, on June 10, when survivors of 9/11 victims were scheduled to hold a press conference in Washington to demand answers to unanswered questions about the terrorist attacks, Attorney General John Ashcroft disclosed in a surprise press conference from Moscow that Brooklyn, N.Y., native Jose Padilla had been secretly arrested a month earlier in Chicago on suspicions that he was planning to participate in a "dirty bomb" attack. Since then Padilla too has been kept incommunicado in a Navy brig and denied a lawyer.
Ashcroft's sensational announcement blew the 9/11 questioners out of the papers the following day but those questions remain. One of the questioners is Mary Schiavo, a former inspector general for the US Department of Transportation under the first Bush and Clinton administrations, now a lawyer representing 32 families of victims from all four planes hijacked on 9/11. She said there were many warnings that terrorists might hijack commercial airliners but apparently no action was taken to prevent them.
Another questioner is Dr. Steve Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, who said most of the 9/11 terrorists had serious visa violations. He noted that terror ringleader Mohamad Atta got a temporary visa to live in the US although he was unemployed, unmarried, and lived outside his home country. "You don't issue temporary visas to people like that," Camarota exclaimed.
When J. Michael Springmann was chief of the visa section at the US Embassy in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, he said, in hundreds of cases he would reject visa applications for suspect people whose credentials didn't check out --only to have the CIA officer overrule him and order visas issued. When he protested this to the State Department, Office of Diplomatic Security, the FBI, the Justice Department and congressional committees, he said, "I was told to 'shut up.'" Springmann noted that "15 of the 19 people who allegedly flew airplanes into buildings in the United States got their visas from the same CIA consulate in Jeddah."
None of these questions were found worthy of coverage in the nation's mainstream press.
Some of our liberal colleagues caution the progressive press against getting into conspiracy theories. We are skeptical of conspiracists as we are of the Bush administration's dismissals of them. That's another reason an independent commission is needed to conduct a thorough investigation of events that led up to 9/11 and why intelligence and security agencies failed us.
We would expect such a probe to take place before Congress approves the establishment of a new Department of Homeland Security and expansion of the FBI, the CIA and other spook agencies that already burn through more than $30 billion with questionable efficiency. But Senate Democrats apparently have quietly set aside legislation that would establish an independent commission to investigate the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, Joe Conason reported June 22 in Salon.com.
Some Democrats on the special House-Senate Joint Committee on Intelligence, enjoying their time on TV talk shows while the matter is probed almost entirely behind closed doors, have exerted backroom pressure to sideline the bill to create the independent commission. This despite the bill's approval by the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, support of Majority Leader Tom Daschle, most of his fellow Democrats and a handful of Republicans, including Arizona's John McCain and Iowa's Charles Grassley.
Among those opposed to the indy probe, Conason said, were Sens. Bob Graham of Florida, Evan Bayh of Indiana, Dianne Feinstein of California and John Edwards of North Carolina. Without them, Conason said, Daschle cannot count on 50 votes to create a commission. (Republican House leaders are opposed anyway, in lockstep with the White House.)
That leaves it up to just us folks to defend our liberties. Some 300 Northampton, Mass., citizens, modeling themselves after the Sons of Liberty who organized against British tyranny before the Revolutionary War, met on Feb. 4 to organize ways to protect residents of the town from the Bush-Ashcroft USA PATRIOT Act. They defied Attorney General John Ashcroft, who threatened dissenters in his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee last year. Instead, Nat Henthoff wrote in the Village Voice, "the Northampton Bill of Rights Defense Committee began a new American Revolution."
The Northampton group got more than 1,000 signatures on a petition urging the town government to approve a "resolution to defend the Bill of Rights." That resolution passed the Northampton city council by a unanimous vote on May 2. It targets not only the USA PATRIOT Act but also all subsequent actions by Ashcroft and others that "threaten key rights guaranteed to US citizens and noncitizens by the Bill of Rights and the Massachusetts Constitution." Among those key rights: "freedom of speech, assembly, and privacy; the right to counsel and due process in judicial proceedings; and protection from unreasonable searches and seizures."
In April, similar resolutions to defend the Bill of Rights from the Bush administration and feckless Congress were passed in the nearby towns of Amherst and Leverett. City councils of Ann Arbor, Mich., Berkeley, Calif., Denver, Colo., and Cambridge, Mass., have passed similar resolutions. More are in preparation. See www.gjf.org/NBORDC or call (413) 584-1079 for details.
Don't get conned into giving up our liberties and our tax dollars in an endless war that enriches Beltway Bandits at the expense of health care, education and social security. -- JMC