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Sneak attack

By Lady Liberty
web posted December 20, 2004

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. 2,388 people -- mostly military personnel, but including civilian men, women, and children -- died. At the same time, the American Pacific Fleet lost much of its capabilities. President Franklin Roosevelt, speaking on the airwaves to a shocked nation, called December 7 a day that would live in infamy and subsequently set into motion US involvement in World War II.

There are some who say that Roosevelt knew about the attack in advance and that he let it happen so as to have an inarguable reason for getting into a war the American public was none too keen on joining at the time. Perhaps that's just a conspiracy theory; perhaps it's true. Either way, the public at large was appalled first by the attack, and then by the discoveries of what was really happening behind the gates of Adolf Hitler's concentration camps.

The troops and the American public alike were rallied with music, posters, movies, and speeches appealing to a patriotic love for freedom, and the American public responded. Young men signed up for military service in droves. Women took on a variety of jobs, many of which were traditionally male provinces, so that more men could be freed for fighting. All were urged to help in the war effort by limiting their use of certain products like those items made with rubber (ask me sometime about my mother's stories of underwear without elastic) or nylon. No sacrifice was too great because everyone believed that the stakes were high and that they were facing the potential loss of liberty under the boot of tyranny.

Fast forward some 63 years to today, and look at your calendar for December of 2004. On December 7, you'll see that most calendars take note of the Pearl Harbor attack which is still remembered with surprising freshness by many Americans. That's why I found it especially ironic -- and more than a little painful -- that Americans were subjected to another sneak attack on freedom on that very anniversary. December 7, 2004 marks the moment when the House of Representatives passed legislation to provide for intelligence reform. The vote tallies were overwhelming. A day later, and by an even more lopsided margin, the Senate did the same.

The intelligence bill is just the latest fall-out resulting from the 9/11 attacks. Literally within days of the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania, another lengthy piece of legislation was rushed through Congress. Referenced by a singularly inappropriate acronym, the USA PATRIOT Act was heralded as necessary for law enforcement to prevent further attacks on American soil. The PATRIOT Act has been the subject of controversy ever since, with civil liberties advocates claiming it infringes mightily on American freedoms, and even members of Congress scrambling to defend their votes or to talk of reforms for various provisions of the Act. Of course, defending affirmative votes for the measure are limited to rationalizations of general notions rather than specifics. That's because the text of the USA PATRIOT Act wasn't available to members of Congress before they voted on it.

At the time, the authorities said that we had to do something right away to prevent more terrorist attacks, and their conveyed sense of urgency in combination with the veiled accusations that anyone voting against the PATRIOT Act wasn't patriotic served to force some votes. Members of Congress were also promised that the PATRIOT Act would never be used for anything but terrorist tracking and prosecution. Of course, that's since turned out to be untrue with PATRIOT Act-related prosecutions ranging from suspected drug dealers to embezzlers. (There are those who believe that the ability of the Department of Justice to put together such a comprehensive measure in such a short period of time meant that those measures had long been on a federal prosecutors' "wish list." They allege that the situation following 9/11 merely presented an opportunity to see those wishes granted. Although I'm not completely convinced that's the case, I'll admit I lean that direction myself).

Even some of those matters that could be argued as being legitimate under the original anti-terrorism explanations of the PATRIOT Act are problematic for the federal government. An Oregon lawyer, accused of participating in the train bombings in Madrid after investigators claimed his fingerprints had been found on evidence there was reluctantly released after Spanish authorities conclusively showed the fingerprints belonged to an Algerian man instead; an Idaho webmaster was acquitted by a jury who, despite government accusations to the contrary, didn't believe he should be held responsible for web site content for which he'd had no responsibility whatsoever.

Hundreds of municipalities and counties, along with four state legislatures, have passed resolutions in protest of the law that range from pleas to Congress to review the PATRIOT Act to outright refusals to participate in any local PATRIOT Act-based investigations. But these things are all well after the fact and represent what's likely to be an uphill battle as the Department of Justice and the Bush administration continue to defend the PATRIOT Act and all of the powers it gives.

Still, one positive result of the ongoing controversy surrounding the USA PATRIOT Act seemed to be the demise of the so-called PATRIOT II legislation. Apparently not satisfied with the inroads against the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments made by the PATRIOT Act itself, the Department of Justice wanted still more powers to aid in its battles in the War on Terrorism. Although accusations were later made that provisions from PATRIOT II were being stealthily added piecemeal to other bills making their way through the legislative process, much of the original legislation seemed to have been largely dismantled. But, as your grandmother might have said, there's more than one way to skin a cat.

Perhaps it felt stung by the criticism surrounding the USA PATRIOT Act and its hurried rush to passage and implementation. More likely, it was simply doing what it thought would appease public concern. Whatever its reasons, the administration appointed a Commission to investigate the 9/11 attacks. Primary among the questions to be answered were such as: Why didn't we know this would happen? Who was at fault for us not knowing? How can we best make sure we never fail to know such things again? The 9/11 Commission's report made a number of suggestions for improvements in intelligence gathering and dissemination as well as offered ideas for the interdiction of terrorism within the US. That report ostensibly formed the basis for the intelligence bill recently passed on December 7 and 8.

Unfortunately, while it does supposedly address what I personally think are some issues that did require reform (communications between at least 14 intelligence agencies, along with requirements for the review and oversight of the privacy impact of various programs -- though the latter is suspect as to any real teeth or even motivation behind it), the legislation also allegedly contains some extraordinarily anti-freedom measures. Some of those are said to include the implementation of a de facto national ID card, rumored measures for widespread and inclusive Internet surveillance, the effective repeal of prohibitions to the CIA of spying on Americans in America, and broad opportunities for abuse by authorities. Further, at least one politician (Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin) has been on record as opposing the bill as is because he believes it doesn't address immigration issues adequately, a matter which many believe is central to protecting us against another terrorist attack.

You, the astute reader, will doubtless note that I've used such "weasel" words in the paragraph above as "supposedly," "rumored," "allegedly," and "said to." There's a reason for those "weasel" words, and that reason is this: Once again, Congress has voted under pressure from the administration on an extensive bill (I've seen Internet reports that claim the bill is comprised of anywhere from 600 to 3,000 pages) with even more extensive implications, and which was not made available to them to review beforehand!

Do I blame the administration for forcing the issue? Sure. Do I find fault with the people who wrote this legislation? From what I know of its likely content, you bet I do. But our supposed protectors from bad legislation -- the men and women who vote on it -- are the real villains here. It's one thing to disagree with what bad legislation might be (there are some in Congress who, I suspect, favor anything that gets the government more involved than it should be in citizens' lives and pocketbooks); it's another entirely to take note of the utter and complete abrogation of responsibility involved when a Representative or Senator votes on a bill he or she hasn't read and considered carefully and with the gravity that is its due.

The votes held on December 7 and 8 were a sneak attack on American liberty in more ways than one. It seems we don't know much of what is contained in this new legislation shortly to become law; it's also readily apparent that those concerns have no meaning for the many who are glossing over specificities by calling this bill "necessary to fight the War on Terrorism," a phrase that's sounding more hollow with every passing day even as it's becoming more familiar with every passing bill.

December 7, 1941 heralded the beginning of a battle against forces in Japan, Germany, and Italy that would have established tyranny across as much of the world as they could conquer. September 11, 2001 marked an attack that's been compared any number of times to the one on Pearl Harbor in its shock, horrific death toll, and impetus to war. But though the declaration of war resulting from the more recent attack was ostensibly to fight against terrorism, it seems to me that there's also an ongoing war in this country between those who value freedom above all else, and those willing to trade it in any quantity for any semblance of security, however ephemeral it may be.

For all of the similarities between Pearl Harbor and the 9/11 there's one ironic dissimilarity that stands taller than the World Trade Center Towers ever did: World War II was fought for freedom. Our current fight is one in which freedom may prove to be the ultimate casualty.

Lady Liberty is a graphic designer and pro-freedom activist currently residing in the Midwest. More of her writings and other political and educational information is available on her web site, Lady Liberty's Constitution Clearing House, at http://www.ladylibrty.com. E-mail Lady Liberty at ladylibrty@ladylibrty.com.


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