|Issue #103 • January/February, 2007|
My late friend, Jim Callahan, was a self-professed “liberal.” At least, when I first met him, that’s what he claimed. Actually, he wasn’t. But Jim wasn’t a “conservative” either. In fact, I regularly accused him of being a closet Libertarian, and although early in our friendship he denied it, later on he never reacted to my comment—except to smile. He must have finally gone and found out what a Libertarian really is.
He did care about the country, though. One day, for no reason at all, he said, “If you asked the average American if he wanted to live under tyranny, most of them would probably say no. Yet, we’re allowing all the mechanisms that could create a dictatorship to be put into place.”
I asked what he meant and he gave me some examples. The RICO Act, he said, was sold to us as a means of bringing down drug kingpins. The reality of the law is that it has been used to confiscate property from people like you and me who have had “too much money” at airports, young blacks wearing “too much jewelry,” people who made the sad mistake of carrying tens of thousands of dollars from the sales of their houses and then getting stopped by an eagle-eyed—or should I say, vulture-eyed—cop. Their money is taken, without having to prove it came from any illegitimate means. He said there are something like 5,000 of these seizures a week. The irony is that the person with the property doesn’t have to be charged with anything. But the effect of the RICO Act, he said, is that it denies Americans have property rights. Was this what Americans expected from this law, an abrogation of their property rights?
He mentioned the PATRIOT Act which, again, was sold to us as a necessity for combatting terrorists. But it has all but killed our privacy and, today, schoolyard bullies, kids drawing “violent” pictures in school, people using racial epithets, people exercising their First Amendment rights, can be charged with making terrorist threats. Who the hell even heard of a terrorist threat 10 years ago? But now, a terrorist threat is whatever the powers that be want it to be.
Jim wasn’t a conspiracy theorist. He often quoted Robert J. Hanlon who said, “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” And though he had a lot of hope for the country, he had an unflattering view of both the American people and our elected “servants.”
He said there are a lot of laws like these, sold to us under the guise of combating foreign threats or master criminals, but written so vaguely that the threats can be construed as almost anything. And then these laws are turned against us and used to deny us our rights.
Jim’s gone now, but I wish I could get his take on what’s happening now, because in October President Bush signed into law the Military Commissions Act. It will include:
- Secret and indefinite detention of anyone labeled an “enemy combatant.” (And what is the definition of an enemy combatant? No one knows. It’s whoever they declare to be an enemy combatant, even ordinary American citizens.)
- Secret prisons to lock these people up, not only here in the U.S., but around the world. (Halliburton just won a contract worth $385 million to build camps in this country.)
- The kidnapping of “suspects” from anywhere in the world, without regard to current treaties or the laws of other nations.
- The sanctioning of “harsh interrogation.” If you don’t know what that means, it means torture.
- The use of any “evidence” obtained through that torture, not only to convict and punish the prisoner, but to implicate others.
- No right to appeal if you’re convicted with evidence obtained by torture.
- Secret evidence—in other words, you can’t even examine the evidence used against you to refute the charges.
- Trial by military judges.
- And here’s the kicker. The law includes provisions that make it impossible to hold those violating your God-given or Natural rights, violating the Constitution, and violating common decency accountable. (This last one is an attempt to make legitimate the Nazis’ war crimes defense that, “I was just following orders.”)
This nightmare is happening in America.
As with previous laws, the Act was sold to us one way, but it’s written in quite another. And when someone’s snagged up in the web of this new law, the way it was sold to the public will carry no weight whatsoever. Like the RICO Act, the PATRIOT Act, and others, the only thing that will matter will be what the law actually says.
How long do you think it’ll be before one domestic “crime” after another is reassigned to come under the purview of the Military Commissions Act, and it, too, will be turned against us?
Nearly 100 lawsuits were filed against this law before it was a month old. But more voices have to be heard.
And this brings me back to my friend Jim and his concerns, because once he half-jokingly said, “Having laws like these in place is like leaving a loaded gun on the table in a room full of eight-year-old boys, and expecting nothing to happen.”
It’s time for Americans to speak out, and more, to take to the streets as we did in the ’60s. For if we don’t soon take back our government from those who would enslave “protect” us, we will lose our rights forever.