Liberty over security: speak out before it’s too late

I watched in horror as America was attacked on September 11, 2001. Nearly 3,000 moms, dads, sisters and brothers died. The world rallied around America as the images splashed across newspapers and flashed across TV screens. Support poured in from friends and foes alike. The Bush administration called for international action against al Qaeda based in Afghanistan. The United States and its NATO allies invaded Afghanistan.

Since the invasion I have watched in horror as the Bush administration and a complicit Congress has attacked American civil liberties.

The defeat of the Taliban government came swiftly and hundreds of fighters were captured. Under international law, these fighters should have been deemed soldiers and protected under the Geneva Conventions. However, under the guise of national security, the Bush administration labeled those captured as enemy combatants and set up an extra-territorial prison in order to get around international conventions and laws.

Guantanamo Bay. This name conjures images of hooded, shackled prisoners shuffling between marines. Hundreds of teenage boys and adult males were sent to this prison and have been subject to harsh treatment including torture. By design, as enemy combatant, the prisoners have no legal recourse to challenge their status, imprisonment or treatment. Congress has aided the Bush administration’s dismantling of due process through the passage of the Military Commissions Act of 2006. Cries for justice reverberate around the world.

Yet, Guantanamo Bay is merely the tip of the iceberg. The Bush administration and Congress have taken away long held legal rights. From the prisoner in Guantanamo Bay to the average person on America’s streets, the loss of civil rights and liberties continues.

President Bush has used the Patriot Act, passed 45 days after 9/11, to gain unfettered access to personal information on ordinary people. Section 215 removes the need to show probable cause for surveillance and searches. The FBI uses this act to issue National Security Letters (NSL) that require employers, financial institutions, libraries and anyone else to hand over personal information without informing the individual under investigation.

More than 143,000 NSLs have been issued with only one terrorism prosecution. Congress tried to fix the Patriot Act and placed sunset clauses of 2009 on some sections, but the amended version continues to fail to adequately protect innocent, ordinary people in this country. This act violates the Fourth Amendment.

The threat continues with the pending Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act. Don’t be deceived by the title: this act will establish a commission to explore how to prevent terrorism, but history shows this may lead to unconstitutional restrictions on speech and belief. Congress should be concerned with individuals committing crimes, not those who have beliefs the government may consider extreme. This act passed the House by a vote of 404-6. It is now before the Senate. Senators Boxer and Feinstein need to stop this dangerous piece of legislation.

The Bush administration and Congress have created a surveillance society. The FBI has used its new powers to establish the Investigative Data Warehouse with more than 560 million records and consistently monitors peaceful groups like the Quakers, Arab-American Anti-Defamation Committee and the ACLU. The Pentagon established the Threat and Local Observation Notice (TALON) database and collected data on anti-war activists across the country. President Bush has authorized warrantless electronic eavesdropping, opening domestic mail and physical searches by the National Security Agency.

Benjamin Franklin warned that “they who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary security deserve neither liberty nor security.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt warned us: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Today, President Bush has encouraged us to succumb to fear. The Bush administration has used national security as an excuse to run roughshod over our privacy and free speech rights. We have given up liberty for security. We have allowed our government to lead us into an unjust war, to curtail our civil liberties and to arbitrarily subject human beings to secret rendition, torture and indefinite detention at Guantanamo Bay without trial, access to attorneys or the rights and freedoms granted by our Constitution.

Enough is enough!

We must tell Congress to close Guantanamo Bay, to repeal the Patriot Act and the Military Commissions Act and to prevent passage of the Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act.

We must tell Congress to restore the Constitution. Civil liberties are more important than a false security. Contact your Representatives and Senators and demand they honor their oaths of office to protect and preserve the Constitution of the United States.

Scott Key is a faculty member at Fresno Pacific University. He teaches in the School of Humanities, Religion and Social Sciences as well as the School of Education.