December 26, 2005
And You Think America Is Repressive?
e-mail and cell phone traffic without a warrant. Searching offices
and residences without a court order. Locking citizens away for
weeks or months without filing charges.
your worst nightmare about the supposedly lawless Bush administration?
Perhaps. But I refer to restrictions on civil liberties that are
taking place not in the United States but, in the order in which
I cited them, Canada, France and Great Britain.
countries are cited as moral superiors to the rogue regime in
Washington, where the fascist leaders George Bush and Dick Cheney
are said to be intent on fastening a reign of terror on the United
States. But a brief scan of newspaper websites in those countries
– something that the American mainstream media could easily
have done before unleashing its own reign of terror on unsuspecting
readers -- reveals that their governments have in many cases gone
far beyond where the Bush-Cheney could ever dream of going.
government has broad authority under anti-terrorism laws to intercept
communications without court oversight. And, complained a Toronto
Star columnist recently, “the [Canadian] government
now has significant new authority to stage secret trials. In some
instances, the very fact that the courts are even hearing a case
may be kept secret.”
the government of Jacques Chirac – who seldom loses an opportunity
to lecture the United States about its supposedly dreadful policies
– has reacted to the recent “intifada” in France
by declaring a “state of emergency.” It allows the
government to impose a curfew on communities where rioting has
taken place, search for and seize evidence with no showing of
probable cause, place suspects under house arrest for up to two
months and otherwise ride roughshod over normal protections.
critics are complaining that the crown jewel of civil rights,
the ancient right of habeas corpus, is at risk because of a measure
allowing detention without charges for up to 28 days. The government
of Tony Blair, no right wing extremist, had initially asked for
90 days. Under the Terrorism Act of 2005, moreover, demonstrations
within two miles of Britain’s Parliament are forbidden,
severely crimping the equally ancient right of assembly.
other democracies engage in such activity isn’t necessarily
a reason the United States should do so. Indeed, if France is
doing it, it’s probably a good argument that we shouldn’t.
Nor is it a bad thing for The New York Times to call
the NSA monitoring to our attention – though one wonders
why the Times sat on this supposedly important story
for a year, ran it on the eve of a vote to reauthorize the Patriot
Act and glossed lightly over substantial court precedent agreeing
with President Bush.
As John Schmidt,
a former official in the Clinton Justice Department, pointed out
in a subsequent Chicago Tribune column, his boss, Deputy
Attorney General Jamie Gorelick, testified in the 1990s that “the
Department of Justice believes, and the case law supports, that
the President has inherent authority to conduct warrantless physical
searches for foreign intelligence purposes.” Jimmy Carter
had asserted the same power when he was President.
over Bush’s use of the National Security Agency to monitor
international communications is thus likely to fade as an issue,
much as the he-lied-us-into-war hysteria of prior months faded
in significance as it became apparent that most of his congressional
critics had interpreted the intelligence about weapons of mass
destruction in exactly the same fashion as the administration.
How to balance
civil liberties and national security is a subject of legitimate
dispute. But Americans deserve more perspective on the matter
than they are getting from Bush’s critics and their megaphones
in the liberal press.
Bray is a Detroit News columnist.