September 2003

The real legacy of 9/11, two years later

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It’s September 11–do you know where
John Ashcroft is? It’s been two years
since America was attacked by Al
Qaeda terrorists wielding box-cutters.
Two years since George W. promised to
“smoke ’em out,” make Americans safe
from foreign terrorists, and “secure our freedoms.”
Two years since our airports and practically
every other public facility and private
office building have been locked down, requiring
all of us to submit to constant surveillance–
from poking into our personal belongings
to routinely wanding our bodies. Two
years since hundreds of billions of our tax dollars
have been diverted from other crucial
needs to build the surveillance state. Two
years during which our Brave New Homeland
Security Department has been issuing its
“Code Orange” alerts and advising us to
defend ourselves with duct tape.
So do you feel safer? Or a little bit suckered? After
two years of “protecting” our freedom by suspending
our freedoms, here’s what scares me: Not Al
Qaeda, but our own homegrown autocrats–
Ashcroft and other political extremists and
opportunists who fan the embers of
fear, then drape a veil of patriotism
over their push to impose
a police-state mentality on our Land of the
Free. Yes, foreign terrorists can do us bodily harm, but they’re nonthreat to the soul of America.
They can’t take our liberties from us, can’t militarize our society, can’t dim the light of America’s proud democratic
beacon, can’t force our soldiers into imperialistic
wars to make the world safe for Halliburton, can’t
change the principles of egalitarianism that undergird
our society. But our own so-called leaders can
do all of this–and they are.
BushCo, backed by spineless Wobblycrats in
Congress and cheered on by a fawning media establishment,
have had two years and an unlimited budget
to work their will in response to 9/11, and it’s
now time for us to speak bluntly about their efforts:
These people are NUTS!
And dangerous. They can’t find Osama bin Laden
(and have even diverted our military from that legitimate
purpose), but they have amassed a shiny new
arsenal of police powers so they can always find you
and me–tracking the library books we check out,
the medicines we take, our political associations,
our private Internet searches, our psychiatric
records, the church groups we join, the charities we
support.
As no less an establishment voice than The New
York Times recently editorialized:
“Rather than do the hard work of
coming up with effective
[reforms], the administration has
taken aim at civil liberties.”

Changing America

The Bushites are hammering
our America into their autocracy,
pounding especially hard on our
First Amendment rights of free
speech, assembly, and association
(which are the essential freedoms
for challenging authority)
and on our Fourth Amendment
right to live free of unreasonable
searches and seizures.
In some faraway cave, Osama
has to be smiling as these smallminded
zealots in Washington so
feverishly dismantle the genius of
Jefferson, Madison, and the other
freedom-loving architects of
America’s precious protections
against authoritarianism.
Their assertions of police power
have been stunning–from the
FBI’s secret seizure of media documents
to police interrogations
about the political affiliations of
antiwar protesters; from the
absurd citizen-snitch program
dubbed “Operation TIPS” to the
more absurd super-snooper program
called “Total Information
Awareness,” allowing the
Pentagon to rifle through our personal
transactions and to compile
electronic profiles of us in what
they call “a virtual, centralized
grand database.”
If you want to see the broad
sweep of America’s new autocratic
broom, check out the
Homeland Security Department’s
“No-Fly List.” Thousands of innocent
travelers are being denied
boarding passes on the flights
they’ve booked because HSD,
through its Transportation
Security Administration, has a
long and flawed list of us innocent
Americans who inexplicably
are being detained.
Jan Adams and Rebecca Gordon
are two who have experienced
these unfriendly skies. Both are
peace activists and thoroughly
patriotic Americans, though they
have been critical of the Bushites’
war policies. Last year at the San
Francisco airport, as they began
to board a flight to Boston, they
were taken aside and detained for
interrogation and a police search.
It turns out that they are
among hundreds of people on
this airport’s “no-fly” list. Other
airports have their own lists–
across the bay in Oakland, the
list runs for 88 pages.
Adams and Gordon didn’t just
get mad about being arrested–
they took action. First, they filed
a Freedom of Information request
with the TSA and FBI asking
basic questions: Who put their
names on this list, what are the
criteria, how many names are on
it, how can people get their
names removed, etc.?
They got no response at all. So
with the ACLU of Northern
California, they sued the government.
The FBI then said that it
does have internal documents
answering their questions, but it
won’t disclose them. The TSA
released some of its guidelines,
but blacked out so many pages
that the documents are useless,
except to demonstrate the
agency’s total disdain for the
people’s right to know. Adams
and Gordon did learn a couple of
disturbing things, however:

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