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You have the right to remain silent (Read 216 times)

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You have the right to remain silent
Jun 8th, 2002 at 11:32am
Ashcroft chips away at civil liberties and terrorizes citizens in process
By Geov Parrish, Working For Change

Let's start with the blindingly obvious. No prospective terrorist is going to register with John Ashcroft's program to fingerprint Middle Eastern and Muslim visitors, let alone provide the INS with continuing details of their movements inside the country. Only the law-abiding folks are going to do that. Ashcroft's latest assault on freedom and decency seems less like an effective law enforcement tool than a handy compendium of names and addresses to round up new residents once the camps are ready to open.

Ashcroft should be familiar with the logic that terrorists won't comply with his program the NRA has relied on the same logic for decades. ("When guns are outlawed, only outlaws...") But it's only one of the reasons that targetting 200,000 legal visitors to the U.S. each year won't stop a terrorist, or do anything to them other than provide mild amusement. How, exactly, will such fingerprints be used? (Ever tried to collect fingerprints from a successful suicide bomber?)

Unless they're already in some other country's database, the INS will have nothing to match with someone entering the country. If they have, at some point, been fingerprinted, you've stilll got hundreds of millions of prospective prints from around the globe to search through accurately before the person leaves the airport terminal or border checkpoint or whatever. Good luck. (And if I were al-Qaeda, it would be a simple matter to send people into the U.S. who either don't fit the INS profile e.g., the C-4-in-the-shoe white guy who was a British citizen or don't have a criminal record.)

We're now hurtling through summer and toward the one-year anniversary of the destruction of two World Trade Center towers. The profiles in courage running this country are just starting to face questions as to why, exactly, our staggeringly well-funded military and intelligence juggernauts were unable to anticipate, let alone prevent, such a catastrophe. Maybe, in another year, someone will start to wonder why it is that the Bush Administration's actions since September 11 have created more prospective anti-American terrorists than they've stopped or why Dubya's team has seemingly gone out of its way to follow exactly Osama bin Laden's imagined scenario for a global holy war between Islam and the West.

Then there's the investigation, domestically, of past terror acts and possible future ones. Forget, as everyone else has, that the anthrax attacks that killed several people and panicked the country last fall remain unsolved, and that at least publicly officials seem remarkably uncurious and unconcerned. Forget that profiling, racial or otherwise, doesn't work in fact, it's an impediment, because it leads law enforcement to pay more attention to the profile and to pay less attention to actual behavior. (Again, remember C-4 Man.)

Even if one instead accepts John Ashcroft's fixation on al-Qaeda and what its leaders look like, there's still a big problem. After everything Ashcroft has done to usurp America's global claim of championing freedom the separation of non-citizens from their traditionally guaranteed due process and constitutional rights, the indefinite imprisonment without charges of over a thousand men, the "questioning" of many thousands more, the unlimited surveillance and wiretapping and e-mail monitoring of anyone-at-any-time without judicial review or even any suspicion that a crime might be in the works, the explicit vows to investigate based on religious or political beliefs (and the equation of questioning Ashcroft's own beliefs with "aiding terrorists" all those steps and many, many more have not led to even one person being charged with a terrorism-related crime.

Not one. Sure, some people have been picked up for overstaying visas often while undergoing the interminable INS-imposed wait while asylum applications are processed, with the knowledge that it's safer to violate a visa restriction here than face certain death from some despot's secret police back home. Others have been rotting in jail for no particular reason at all, which given that no additional skyscrapers have crumbled Ashcroft and his goons probably think means that jailing still more people without cause would make for even better prevention.

Heck, jail us all. It's probably occurred to him. Hopefully, people will start questioning Ashcroft's assault on the constitution he once swore to uphold and protect, before questioning his policies also becomes explicit grounds for arrest and imprisonment.

There's a lot of rhetoric among Ashcroft's mostly marginalized critics these days that his tactics could lead us to a police state. But for non-citizens, Muslims, Arabs, and other folks in the U.S. who look vaguely like the Sept. 11 perps, the United States already is a police state. This is how police states work: a minority gets identified and attacked as criminal preferably a threat to national security. Bit by bit their rights are gutted, while the rest of us go obliviously about our business. And then gradually, the definition of who constitutes a threat is also expanded.

Unlimited detention without charges, the right to a jury trial, or the right to see the evidence against you. Chilling of political speech. Unlimited surveillance and investigative powers. Week by week, the initiatives pile up, the list of abuses considered off-limits for our government gets progressively shorter. With nobody having ever been charged in relation to the threat purportedly necessitating it all.

Now, it's fingerprinting and tracking the movements of 200,000 people suspected of no crime. What will come next week?

We can't wait another year or two or three to challenge John Ashcroft's, and George Bush's, frightening vision of expanded government power. Challenging it is not aiding terrorists it's coming to the defense of this country's founders.

Reprinted from Working For Change:
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