Knight-Ridder/Tribune Media Services, December 6, 2001
It is unprecedented in our history for a government to take advantage of both war and economic recession to fleece the American people. During the Vietnam War we got Medicare and Medicaid, and during World War II there were profit and price controls, not to mention unemployment falling to 1.2 percent. The Great Depression brought us Social Security and unemployment insurance.
But the Bush Administration has discovered that September 11 was different: an attack for the first time since the Civil War on the American mainland, with thousands buried in the wreckage of a smoldering inferno as the nation watched helplessly. The American people were, and to some degree still are, in a state of shock. This opens up all kinds of opportunities for those who are unscrupulous enough to take advantage of the public's increased reliance on government to provide both physical and economic security.
Thus we have seen the House majority pass an "economic stimulus" package that not even conservative economists would consider a stimulus, with most of the money going for tax breaks to corporations and the very rich (households with income of more than a million dollars a year). While jobs evaporate at the fastest rate in 20 years, the airlines get $15 billion from Congress, and their laid-off employees get nothing. And every wasteful and destructive project from missile defense to drilling the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has been repackaged and hawked as a vital component of the War Against Terrorism.
When they said, "United We Stand," who knew how small the group described by "We" really was?
All of this is an outrage, and will eventually be understood as such. But the most dangerous development has been the Administration's assault on our civil liberties and freedoms. The detention of hundreds of people who, the authorities concede, are not even suspected to be connected with terrorism; the expansion of police powers for wiretapping, secret searches, and surveillance, even of previously protected conversations between attorney and client; and most menacing, President Bush's executive order authorizing secret military tribunals, without appeal to civilian courts, to try and even to execute non-citizens accused of links to "terrorism."
For the sake of truth in advertising, we should put a sign for visitors at our airports and borders: "Warning: you have no rights in this country. Do not be fooled by our Constitution and Bill of Rights, or the appearance of the rule of law. If you are not a US citizen, these do not apply to you. You may as well be in Burma."
The expanded police powers apply to citizens, too. Mostly they will legitimize what the FBI has been doing illegally for decades. In the 1960s the Bureau ran an enormous, centrally directed domestic "Counterintelligence Program" which targeted civil rights organizers (including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., described in a high-level FBI memo as "the most dangerous Negro in the future of this Nation,"), peace groups and other dissidents. Their tactics included infiltration, blackmail, disruption of legal political activity, and covert media operations to discredit political opponents.
Most people think these illegal domestic operations ended in 1972 with the death of the FBI's extremist director, J. Edgar Hoover. But in fact they continued well into the 1980s—targeting thousands of religious, student, and other activists opposed to US foreign policy in Central America—and even into the 90s. The pretext for the FBI's abuses in the 1980s was a spurious charge that peace activists were linked to "terrorism."
This sordid record should give us a preview of what the Orwellian-named "USA-Patriot Act," passed by Congress on October 25, is likely to deliver. President Bush's executive order also indicates that the Administration is trying to intimidate dissent: actions that cause or threaten to cause "adverse effects on the United States [or] its foreign policy" are included in the order's definition of "international terrorism."
If these keeps up, we won't have to worry about terrorists destroying our way of life: our own government will have done it for them.