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Government move is the latest in a series of assaults on civil liberties

Friday, May 05, 2006

While reading my daily dose of news, I came across an interesting article at Propaganda Matrix that listed a number of offenses against individual liberty, etc., in the UK. I thought it would be an interesting exercise to see what I could come up with to make a similar list for "this side of the pond." Keep in mind that this list was compiled on the fly, so some of the examples may not be the best. In fact, if you know of a more appropriate example, leave a comment listing the section, a link to the article, and any relevant text and I'll make the necessary edits.

Submitted for you approval:

Freedom of speech

The ACLU's legal papers listed more than a dozen examples of police censorship at events around the country, saying that all had been initiated at the behest of the Secret Service and that such incidents are on the rise.  The incidents described took place in Arizona, California, Connecticut, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, South Carolina, Texas and Washington, among other places.  

In one example, retired steelworker Bill Neel, 66, was handcuffed and detained by local officials at a rally in western Pennsylvania last year after he refused to be herded into a remote "designated free speech zone" located behind a six-foot chain-link fence.  

"As far as I'm concerned, the whole country is a free speech zone," Neel said. "If the Bush Administration has its way, anyone who criticizes them will be out of sight and out of mind.  Anyone who calls himself a patriot ought to be as concerned about this as I am."


According to the Friends Committee on National Legislation, the Patriot Act II, also known as the Domestic Security Enhancement Act 2003, is a proposed legislation that expands law enforcement, increases secret surveillance of US citizens and immigrants, and creates new federal sanctions. This act would also significantly limit public access to information about individuals detained under terrorism charges.

Habeas corpus

Perfidy loves company. George W. Bush instructed his British puppet, Prime Minister Tony Blair, to get moving on the detention issue so that he, Bush, would have company when he attacked the Constitution's guarantee of habeas corpus.

Habeas corpus prevents authorities from detaining a person indefinitely without charges; the guarantee of habeas corpus ensures that no one can imprison you without a trial.

The Bush administration wants the power to detain indefinitely anyone it declares to be an enemy combatant or a terrorist without presenting the detainee in court with charges. In England the power to arrest people and to hold them indefinitely without charges was taken away from kings centuries ago. Bush apparently thinks he is the reincarnation of an absolute monarch.

Guilty until proved innocent

During his State of the Union, Bush provided his justification, highlighting the drop in youth drug use over the past two years and arguing that "... drug testing in our schools has proven to be an effective part of this effort."

That the relatively small drug-testing initiative went unnoticed in a speech touting tax cuts, expanded Medicare and "weapons-of-mass-destruction-related program activities" is unsurprising. But so-called suspicion-free drug testing--screening kids for drugs when they've done nothing to indicate they have a drug problem--remains highly controversial.

Trial by jury

A federal appeals court ruled today, in a significant victory for the Bush administration, that the president "unquestionably" had the authority to order the detention of Jose Padilla, an American citizen suspected of having links to Al Qaeda.

A three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond, Va., said it was clear that "the exceedingly important question before us" must be decided in favor of President Bush. In so ruling, the panel reversed a Feb. 28 ruling by a federal district judge in South Carolina.


At the beginning of the 20th century, Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis said, "The right to be let alone is the most comprehensive of the rights of man and the right most valued by civilized men." There is no mention of a right to privacy in the Bill of Rights, but it is very much implied throughout the list of fundamental rights granted to us by the Constitution, as it is also very much a legitimate and necessary freedom of our everyday lives. However, we find ourselves in the beginning of a new century, when the right to privacy has come under attack by our own government. We cannot take this right for granted.

Anyone who has been to the airport recently has surely noticed new federal airport security measures in which checked baggage receives greater scrutiny than before. In some cases, baggage is checked out of the view of the owner, a clearly unnecessary and invasive procedure. There is no reason a person cannot be present while his personal possessions are being rummaged through by strangers.


Here is the key passage in Senator John McCain's anti-torture amendment to the 2006 Defense Appropriations Bill (which the Bush administration has threatened to veto if it arrives so amended): "No individual in the custody or under the physical control of the United States Government, regardless of nationality or physical location, shall be subject to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment."

Here are the August 2002 words of John Yoo, then-deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel at the Department of Justice (now a law professor at Berkeley and the author of a new book reviewed below) in his infamous "torture memo" to White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales. After hauling out many dictionaries, Yoo managed to redefine torture in the following pretzled fashion: "must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death." Thus, did a junior member of the Bush administration open the legal way for waterboarding in the White House. This is the man who, only two weeks after September 11, wrote a memo to Gonzales' deputy entitled The President's Constitutional Authority to Conduct Military Operations against Terrorists and Nations Supporting Them, which is certainly in the running for the most sweeping claim of unfettered executive power in our nation's history and which laid the (il)legal groundwork for an Iraq war of choice to come. "In the exercise of his plenary power to use military force," Yoo insisted, "the President's decisions are for him alone and are unreviewable."

Blair's lucky red charm offensive

I couldn't find anything that was really relevant for this category. That may be a good thing, though.


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