Visions Of Life
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2003-03-29 01:16:14 (UTC)

Ronald Reagan called the..

Ronald Reagan called the Mujahedeen "Freedom Fighters,"
although now their progeny have become "Terrorists." The
CIA proxy army in Nicaragua were also called "Freedom
Fighters" by the White House; most people who actually
lived in Nicaragua considered them Terrorists.

The Kosovo Liberation Army were "Terrorists" until the
U.S. and Britain decided they were anti-Milosevic "Freedom
Fighters," which lasted until they started messing with
Macedonia, when we decided to start calling
them "Terrorists" again.

It seems that "terrorism" is yet another word that can be
manipulated easily.


"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a
little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor
-- Ben Franklin, 1759

In reaction to the 9/11 attacks, various measures have
been implemented which seem to be just good common sense:
closer border inspections, improved airline security,
sturdier cockpit doors, air marshals, etc.

Other measures are a little more severe:

o Roving wiretaps, in which every phone used by a suspect
is tapped
o National ID cards
o Closed-circuit cameras and biometric monitoring in
public spaces
o Limitless detention of immigrant suspects
o Increased criminalization of leaking classified data
o Special military tribunals outside the standard
constraints of U.S. law

And much more.

I'm not saying these are all universally bad. Roving
wiretaps I can actually comprehend. Hell, I've got three
phone numbers and six email addresses, and I'm a quiet
technophobe. I get that. I'm not convinced, but I see the

Still, when the FBI is now openly begging for job
applicants who even speak Arabic and Farsi -- the two main
languages spoken by a group of people who declared war on
the United States five freaking years ago -- I'm not
exactly inspired to assume these guys know precisely what
they need.


My point is, the burden of proof on measures should rest
on their advocates. Will they stop terrorism? How,
specifically? These are our fundamental rights we're
talking about here. This is an enormously important
conversation to have.

Any changes should obviously include "sunset" provisions,
mandating automatic expiration of new laws unless they are
legislatively revisited. This shouldn't even be arguable.
We can trust ourselves to keep anything that's working.
And if anything turns out to be a truly bad idea, we're
also guaranteed a good shot at getting rid of it.

Remember, as a remnant of the War On Some Drugs -- another
open-ended venture now widely conceded to be an obvious
failure, if a still-ongoing one -- our government has
already tinkered greatly with and demonstrably reduced
your rights regarding searches, seizures, entry, evidence,
trial, and sentencing.

None of which was enough. The only noticeable effect: the
United States now has roughly quadrupled its prison
population, now imprisoning more of its people than any
other industrialized nation. And drugs still flow --
especially inside the prisons.

Bill Clinton's 1996 Anti-Terrorism Act also contains even
further suspensions of civil liberties protections,
specifically for terrorist investigations. Apparently none
of these were enough, either.

These same geniuses have now floated all of the following
and more:

oThe definition of "terrorism" might soon be expanded so
broadly as to include any destruction of any federal

oFederal law enforcement agencies -- FBI, NSA, DEA, ATF,
INS, everybody -- might soon be able to sample your email
traffic and websurfing habits with no warrant -- including
the address of everybody you send and receive email with,
every site you visit, and every search you submit.
Statistically, I'm sure they'll soon establish that Cindy
Margolis and Anna Kournikova are the world's greatest
criminal masterminds.

oSecret searches will now be authorized. Instead of
knocking on your door and showing a warrant, the cops can
come in, look around, put things back where they found
them, and hike without you even knowing they dropped by.

oInformation gathered on you illegally by foreign
governments will now be admissible in American courts of
law. Which means if the feds want to play dirty, they can
just ask MI6 or the RCMP to rummage your panties on their

Not all of this will become law, of course. But as of this
writing, it looks like most of it probably will.

Overseeing all this new lock-and-load will be newly-
appointed Homeland Uberprotector Tom Ridge, the
Pennsylvania governor who oversaw the grimly systematic
violation of the civil rights of peaceful protesters at
last year's Republican convention, some of which I saw
(depressingly) with my own eyes. Ordinary citizens
couldn't get within a mile of the building, pre-emptive
arrests were made by the score, and some protest leaders
were held on up to a million dollars bail -- even though
the courts later threw out over 95% of the arrests.

But let's assume all that was just a big oversight, and
Interim Vice-Untermaster Ridge will only use his new
superpowers for good. That still doesn't mean they'll only
be used in the current situation. This wide expansion of
federal authority will assuredly be used, and soon, in
IRS, drug, immigration, and a bazillion other situations.
That's a pretty steep move.

During World War I, free speech could get you imprisoned.
During World War II, about 110,000 Americans were locked
up, purely because of their ethnicity, even though not a
single one -- not one -- was ever so much as charged with
anything relevant, much less convicted.

If our elected leaders want to suggest that curtailing our
rights will make us safer, they should bear the burden of
proof. Before we race to trash the Bill of Rights,
shouldn't we have a nice, if brief, national chat about it

Unfortunately, anybody questioning the bill will be
accused of all sorts of accusations, whether or not their
questions are valid. That's not exactly healthy for

As I've already said, the barest minimum we should expect
is that all of these provisions -- all of them -- should
be passed with a sunset provision, an automatic expiration
date a few years out that would require another act of
Congress to amend. That way, we can have the debate about
whether these are all good ideas... at least someday.

Naming something the "Patriot Anti-Terrorism Act" or
whatever the hell doesn't mean it's automatically
patriotic. At this rate, the terrorists won't have to
destroy America's liberty. We seem to be doing a good
enough job of that ourselves.

For more on this as it all develops, hang out at
the universal will not teach us a single word, but acts in


Mar 28 2003 5:15PM
More recently, we've seen dozens of pre-emptive, often
violent arrests of non-violent anti-GOP protesters in
Philadelphia (95% of which were thrown out of court as
meritless) and the unlawful violence used by the LAPD to
discourage citizens from lawfully protesting the
Democratic convention (resulting in a sizeable out-of-
court settlement).

I witnessed much of the latter with my own eyes. There
were network cameras nearby which were simply never
pointed at the violence. Sigh.

No, these incidents are not what we're trained to think of
as "terrorism," and obviously not remotely comparable to
what happened in New York or El Salvador. Obviously. But
strictly speaking, considered as category C, the police
actions do fit the FBI's definition of terrorism perfectly.

So now you can see why folks in power are dithering --
just as the UN is forced to -- over how to define the term
in any new laws.


Category D (government/government) terrorism is
unfortunately all too common. If the Afghan, Iraqi, or
other governments are proven to have aided the tragedy of
9/11, then the attack on the Pentagon -- aimed
specifically at a U.S. government building -- would be
Category D terrorism.

Sadly, the U.S. does not have perfectly clean hands here,
either. Dan Rather may not mention it, but the U.S. mined
Nicaragua's harbors in direct violation of international
law, refusing even to acknowledge the jurisdiction of the
World Court. The invasion of Panama and bombing of
civilians at El Chorillo violated both international law
and the charter of the Organization of American States.

The number of similar instances one can cite here is truly
disheartening to anyone who prefers to believe that the
United States, unlike every other nation in history, is
always the good guy.

So finally, it should be obvious that what "terrorism" is,
precisely, indeed depends greatly on who's doing the

Which makes a War On Terrorism an even more meaningless
term than it seemed.


While we're talking about domestic terrorism -- which of
late, has mostly been the province of disenfranchised
while males -- here's another serious concern:

The economy was already in recession before any of this
started, the budget surplus is toast, and no one can even
begin to estimate what the impending war is going to cost -
- in the federal budget, in the domestic economy as a
shift to military spending causes various dislocations, in
any further terrorist attacks, and who knows how else.

While some chunks of America certainly missed out on the
recent expansion, few in this country have any memory of
what truly national economic hardship looks like.

Unemployment, hunger, and more potential casualties would
be a fertile breeding ground for domestic discontent. As
it is, we've already got yahooey morons bonking Sikhs on
their noggins and shouting epithets at anyone more Arabic-
looking than Britney Spears.

Among developed nations, Americans are singularly
predisposed to expecting the promise of prosperity (if not
its actual presence) and remarkably well-armed.

And with law enforcement focused on Al-Qaeda and similar,
violent domestic militias might well spring up again,
completely unseen.

Just something else for us all to worry about...

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