Jun 17, 2002
With a big fanfare, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced that the Justice Department had broken up an Al Qaeda plot. “We have captured a known terrorist who was exploring a plan to build and explode a radiological dispersion device or ‘dirty bomb,’ in the United States.”
This was only the latest in a series of announcements that came fast and furious after revelations concerning September 11 called in question the competency of the Bush administration and various federal police agencies.
Most of these leaks came from the agencies themselves, usually to cover their own butts by pointing at someone else. CIA leaks demonstrated the incompetency of the FBI, with the FBI returning the favor for the CIA.
From Bush on down, they have all been stung by the revelations. And so we have been besieged by constant announcements of plots they have discovered and warnings of possible attacks. Supposedly, all of official Washington is now on the ball.
Whether or not it’s on the ball: official Washington is also doing something. It continues to use the scare that it is itself creating to resurrect one repressive regulation after another, doing away with “inalienable” rights supposedly automatically granted to all citizens in a democracy. In the case of the supposed dirty bomber, the “Justice” department completely ignored the right of a person, when picked up by police, to be either arrested and charged or rapidly released. Instead the suspect was held incommunicado for over a month, and then transferred to a military prison when questions were raised about his situation.
Of course, in police states, this kind of behavior by authorities goes on. But it supposedly is ruled out in a democracy.
Not so – says Bush. When criticized for this conduct, he cited a 1942 Supreme Court decision which justified the rounding up of supposed German spies, under the guise of war-time necessities. The Court reasoned similarly when it OK’d the round-up and imprisonment in concentration camps of all Japanese-Americans for the duration of World War II.
Bush says that we are in another war today – a “war against terrorism.” In the 1940s, ’50s and early ’60s, the government said we were engaged in a “cold war.” They too referred to the rulings of 1942, so that they could round up up vast numbers of citizens – the “crime” of most of whom was having been active in the movement to build the CIO unions or in the movement against Jim Crow segregation.
In other words, in this “democracy” we have rights, except when we don’t have them – and, in the years since the beginning of World War II, that has meant most of the time.
Whatever this latest “Al Qaeda” suspect turns out to be, the fact remains that justification for suspending his democratic rights is in reality a justification for moving toward more suspension of democratic rights for everyone.
The pollsters tell us today that most people are comfortable with more repressive regulations if that can protect us against terrorism.
In fact, such measures do not protect against terrorism. If we want proof of that, just look at Israel today. The military is everywhere, and there is no such thing as democratic rights for the Palestinians and less and less for Israelis themselves. Not only has this not put an end to the terrorism, it has helped inflame it.
Turning the country into an armed camp – where all of us live under constant surveillance, threatened with arbitrary arrest – will not stop the terrorists here either. Terrorists carry out military operations – and they don’t need democratic rights to do that.
But what this suspension of democratic rights will do is make it more difficult for workers to strike, for worker militants to organize unions, for black people to protest against racial injustice, for anyone to protest against wars, lack of educational opportunities for their children, and so on.
When Bush was challenged that this erosion of democratic rights violates the constitution, he simply brushed off the question. Like a dictator, he felt no need to answer.