February 24, 2004
by Maureen Farrell
In an Oct. 2001 article entitled "Liberties Lost: Unintended Consequences of the Anti-Terror Law," former White House counsel John Dean lamented that the "right to dissent" was in jeopardy. Charging that the PATRIOT Act twisted the definition of domestic terrorism, he wrote "home-grown political activists [and protesters] would be considered terrorists under this new law."
Back then, of course, those who raised concerns were either paranoid or naïve and didn't understand the nature of the threat. Earlier this month, however, when a federal judge ordered officials at Iowa's Drake University to hand over records on an antiwar forum held in November (and four activists who attended the forum were also subpoenaed) such concern was proven prescient. While Drake University President David Maxwell expressed concerns that the grand jury's demand was a violation of students' civil rights, National Lawyers Guild president Michael Avery put it more bluntly: "This administration is trying to criminalize dissent, characterize protesters as terrorists and trying to intimidate and marginalize those opposed to its policies," he said. [Tompaine.com]
Meanwhile, Mark Smith, a lobbyist for the American Association of University Professors, told the Associated Press that this case was reminiscent of "red squads" of the '50s and Georgetown law professor David D. Cole agreed. "I've heard of such a thing, but not since the 1950s, the McCarthy era. It sends a very troubling message about government officials' attitudes toward basic liberties," he said.
Though the subpoenas were withdrawn after the story made headlines, concerns remain. "In the two years since 9/11, we have heard one refrain from the Justice Department every time the executive branch seeks to arrogate more power to itself: 'trust us, we're the government,'" Benjamin Stone, executive director of the Iowa ACLU, explained. "But, if it is going to be issuing secretive slapdash subpoenas and then rescinding them to save face, how can we trust that more expansive surveillance and investigative powers will be used properly?"
How indeed. Could this have been some sort of a DoJ test run? And despite strides we've made, are we somehow regressing as a nation?
If you look back at the '50s, McCarthyism wasn't the only hobgoblin in liberty lovers' closets. Congress approved the Security Act of 1950, for example, which contained an emergency civilian detention plan that remained in effect for more than 20 years. And, "tin foil hat" jokes aside, the U.S. government established mind control programs like MKULTRA, in an attempt to coerce individuals, as declassified documents show, to "act against [their] will and even against such fundamental laws of nature such as self-preservation."
And though President Eisenhower urged that we never confuse "honest dissent with disloyal subversion," his reverence for the U.S. Constitution didn't extend to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who, one year after Ike's departure, signed off on a plan to secretly wage terrorist attacks against American citizens and blame Fidel Castro as a pretext for war with Cuba. [ABC News]
"The American people need to be reassured that never again will an agency of the government be permitted to conduct a secret war against those citizens it considers a threat to the established order," Sen. Frank Church vowed in 1975. Nevertheless, it's prudent to remain vigilant. And given that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of select subcommittees, it certainly can't hurt to revisit America's darker recent history. Consider, if you will, the following:
1967: Assisted by an Army task force, President Johnson establishes the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, which calls for the use of military force to squelch civil disturbances. On May 4, 1970, four students are killed at Kent State University when the Ohio National Guard fires at unarmed protesters.
1971: Sen. Sam Ervin's Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights uncovers a military intelligence surveillance system used against thousands of American citizens, and stumbles upon Operation Garden Plot (the United States Civil Disturbance Plan 55-2), which, according to information released under the Freedom of Information Act, gives federal forces the authority to use "deadly force" against any "dissident."
1975: Journalists Ron Ridenhour and Arthur Lublow investigate Operation Cable Splicer, a subplan of Operation Garden Plot, designed to control civilian populations and take over state and local governments. Bill Moyers later lists Operation Cable Splicer and Garden Plot among examples of ways "the secret government [has] waged war on the American people." Sen. Frank Church's Committee to Study Government Operations sheds light on government-sanctioned civil rights abuses, most notably those conducted from 1956 to 1971, under the COINTELPRO initiative.
1982-84: Col. Oliver North helps draft secret wartime contingency plans, which, according to a 2002 report in the Sydney Morning Herald, provide for "the imposition of martial law, internment camps, and the turning over of government to the president and FEMA." Columnist Jack Anderson reports that FEMA's emergency "standby legislation" is meant to "suspend the Constitution and the Bill of Rights."
1984: The Rex-84 "readiness exercise" program is conducted by 34 federal departments and agencies under Ronald Reagan's directive. Reportedly established to control illegal aliens crossing the Mexican/U.S. border, the exercise tests military readiness to round up and detain citizens in case of massive civil unrest.
1987: The FCC discards the Fairness Doctrine, which required broadcasters to present balanced coverage of controversial issues. The legacy of this decision becomes clear following the 2002 election when headlines read, "Talk radio key to GOP victory." During the run up to war, various radio stations sponsor Dixie Chick CD demolitions, and the Bush-connected Clear Channel sponsors pro-war demonstrations.
Though the Iran-Contra scandal involves unconstitutional activity on a scale which exceeds the Watergate burglary, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush emerge from the hearings virtually unscathed. Several Iran-Contra figures are later awarded top jobs in George W. Bush's administration.
April 1996: Congress passes the Effective Death Penalty and Anti-Terrorism Act. Two of the most controversial provisions involve deportations based on secret evidence and criminalization of support given to any group deemed a terrorist organization. "The first [provision] did away with due process, and the second indulged in guilt by association," Georgetown law professor David Cole reported.
1997: The Project for the New American Century is founded, with Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz listed among supporters. In 1998 PNAC urges President Bill Clinton to remove Saddam Hussein from power and in 2000, publishes "Rebuilding America's Defenses," outlining several "core missions" for the U.S. military, including to "fight and decisively win multiple, simultaneous major theater wars."
May 11, 1998: World Net Daily's Geoff Metcalf addresses Internet rumors about concentration camps for U.S. citizens. "The U.S. Army director of resource management has confirmed the validity of a memorandum relating to the establishment of a civilian inmate labor program under development by the Department of Army," he writes, before validating Rep. Henry Gonzalez's 1994 statement, that "The truth of the matter is that you do have those standby provisions, and the statutory emergency plans are there whereby you could, in the name of stopping terrorism, apprehend, invoke the military, and arrest Americans and hold them in detention camps."
Nov. 2000: Greg Palast reports on how tens of thousands of disproportionately black and Democratic voters were purged from voter rolls during the 2000 presidential election, and his story is front page news – in London. The New York Times finally discusses "Katherine Harris's massive purge of eligible voters in Florida" in Feb, 2004. Warning about Jim Crow laws being "revived in cyberspace," Palast and Martin Luther King III also raise concerns about the "Help America Vote Act," which requires "every state to replicate Florida's system of centralized, computerized voter files" before Nov. 2004.
Dec. 13, 2000: Al Gore concedes the presidential election after the Supreme Court installs George W. Bush President of the United States. Alan Dershowitz later writes that this unprecedented decision "threatens to undermine the moral authority of the high court for generations to come."
Sept. 11, 2001: President Bush activates a Cold-War era shadow government, installing cabinet members in underground bunkers. When this plan is uncovered months later, members of Congress reveal that they were not consulted.
In the days following the Sept. 11 attacks, the Office of Special Plans (which the Guardian says "functioned like a shadow government") takes root at the Pentagon. In time, the OSP rivals the C.I.A. and the D.I.A. as the President's main source of intelligence on Iraq's WMD.
Oct. 2001: Shortly after Democratic legislators are targeted in yet-to-be solved anthrax attacks, the PATRIOT Act is railroaded through Congress and the Senate, without the benefit of committee hearings or extended debate.
Nov. 2001: The Bush administration issues executive orders allowing for the use of special military courts and empowering Atty. General John Ashcroft to detain non-citizens indefinitely. Noted conservative William Safire writes that "a president of the United States has just assumed what amounts to dictatorial power." The Model State Emergency Health Powers Act (MEHPA) is introduced to state governors, allowing for confiscation of real estate and other private property and outlining plans to herd citizens into stadiums. President Bush's first Executive Order effectively repeals access to presidential records.
Dec. 2001: Speaking before the Senate Judiciary Committee, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft says concerns about Constitutional protections "aid terrorists" and "scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty." Lynn Cheney's American Council of Trustees issues a list of 117 anti-American statements, including Rev. Jesse Jackson's observation that the U.S. "build bridges and relationships, not simply bombs and walls." As Howard Zinn explains, "The simple exercise of the First Amendment, of saying that we should be able to criticize our government, is enough to put you on Lynne Cheney's list."
Feb. 2002: Former FEMA deputy director, John Brinkerhoff defends the Pentagon's desire to deploy troops on American streets, arguing that the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 has been misinterpreted.
April 2002: It's announced that Northern Command will debut in October to assist in homeland defense. Gen. Ralph Eberhart, the NORAD commander in charge of air defense on Sept. 11, is later named by George W. Bush to serve at its head. Though NORTHCOM's Web site assures that its "operations within the United States are governed by law, including the Posse Comitatus Act," Eberhart admits in an interview that, "We should always be reviewing things like Posse Comitatus and other laws if we think it ties our hands in protecting the American people."
May 31, 2002: A New York Times editorial states that the FBI now has "nearly unbridled power to poke into the affairs of anyone in the United States, even when there is no evidence of illegal activity."
June 2002: Former White House counsel John Dean writes an article asking, "Could terrorism result in a constitutional dictator?" A month later, the Sydney Morning Herald reports that the Bush administration might employ Reagan-era security initiatives, installing "internment camps and martial law in the United States." In Aug., the LA Times reports on Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft's "desire for [detention] camps for U.S. citizens he deems to be enemy combatants."
July 2002: Peter Kirsanow, a Bush appointee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, warns that should America be attacked again, the public will clamor for Arab-Americans to be placed in internment camps. "If they [the terrorists] come from the same ethnic group that attacked the World Trade Center, you can forget about civil rights," he said.
Sept. 2002: President Bush releases the "National Security Strategy of the United States," and officially unveils the doctrine of preemption, borrowing heavily from PNAC's "Rebuilding America's Defenses" and by proxy, the Wolfowitz Doctrine.
Dec. 2002: Lieutenant Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski, "a real conservative in a neoconservative Office of Secretary of Defense," requests an acceleration of her retirement and begins to actively speak out against what she refers to as the "neoconservative coup, a hijacking of the Pentagon."
Nov. 25, 2002: After the 32 page Homeland Security Bill ballooned to nearly 500 pages overnight, and was railroaded through the Senate and Congress, it is signed into law. Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-VT) says it represents "the most severe weakening of the Freedom of Information Act" in 36 years; Sen. Robert Byrd says amendments "expand the [administration's] culture of secrecy" and Rep Ron Paul (R-TX) worries that it "expands the federal police state."
Nov. 27, 2002: Cover-up king Henry Kissinger is chosen to head the Sept. 11 independent Commission, but is later replaced by Gov. Thomas Kean. In Dec. 2003, Kean tells CBS News that Sept. 11 "was not something that had to happen," while Sept. 11 widow Kristen Breitweiser says, "If you were to tell me that two years after the murder of my husband that we wouldn't have one question answered, I wouldn't believe it."
Jan. 2003: The Universal Service Act 2003 (H.R. 163) is introduced in the House and if passed, will reinstate the draft. In Jan. 2004, military analyst David Segal says that the volunteer army is "stretched too thin" and "closer to being broken today than ever before in its 30-year history." In Feb., Rep. Dennis Kucinich tells Bill Maher "we're looking at a draft by the middle of next year if we don't do something about a plan to get out [of Iraq]."
Feb. 2003: Confidential draft legislation entitled "The Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003," is leaked to the Center for Public Integrity and Executive Director Chuck Lewis deems it "five to ten times" worse than the original PATRIOT Act.
March 2003: Operation Iraqi Freedom begins. "An illegitimate war, a country in defiance of the UN. That was supposed to be Iraq's role in this drama. Instead, it seems to be the U.S. part," Canada's Globe and Mail asserts. According to former National Security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, America "has never been so isolated globally, literally never, since 1945."
April 7, 2003: Acting on warnings from the California Anti-Terrorism Information Center, Oakland's police department reportedly fires wooden slugs into a crowd of non-violent protesters.
May 2003: Atlanta Police Department acknowledges that it routinely places antiwar protesters under surveillance. "This harkens back to some very dark times in our nation's history," state Rep. Nan Orrock tells the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
July 2003: In the midst of revelations regarding the hyped case for war in Iraq, documents from Dick Cheney's Energy Task are released and the public learns that the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy recommended that Cheney's task force consider "a 'military' option in dealing with Iraq," five months before the Sept. 11 attacks.
Aug. 2003: Iran-Contra's John Poindexter, chosen to head the Pentagon's controversial Total Information Awareness Program, resigns amidst controversy concerning plans to develop an online futures market for predicting terrorist attacks. President Bush bypasses the Senate and names Daniel 'Campus Watch" Pipes to the Institute of Peace.
Oct. 2003: FBI Intelligence Bulletin no. 89 is sent to police departments. One month later, ACLU executive director Anthony Romero tells the New York Times: "This bulletin confirms that the federal government is targeting innocent Americans" and says, "It is troubling that the FBI is advocating spying on peaceful protesters, but even protesters who engage in civil disobedience or other disruptive acts should not be treated like potential terrorists."
Dec. 2003: In an interview, Gen. Tommy Franks warns that if terrorists unleash "a weapon of mass destruction. . . somewhere in the Western world" (but not necessarily in the U.S.) it may "begin to militarize our country" and "unravel the fabric of our Constitution."
Jan. 2004: The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace concludes that the Bush administration "systematically misrepresented" the threat from Iraq's weapons programs. Former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill confirms that plans to invade Iraq were formulated before Sept. 11. Former senior US weapons inspector David Kay says major stockpiles of WMD probably didn't exist in Iraq.
"The Neoconservative Plan for Global Dominance" and "Homeland Security Threatens Civil Liberty" are listed as Project Censored's most underreported stories for 2002-2003. The New York Times runs an editorial on black box voting, drawing widespread attention to the possibility of rigged elections in 2004.
Feb. 6, 2004: The National Lawyers Guild issues a press release saying that it will "move to quash an FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force subpoena" regarding the Nov. 15, 2003 antiwar conference at Iowa's Drake University. Heidi Boghosian, Executive Director of the Guild, says the subpoena "has nothing to do with national security and everything to do with intimidating lawful protestors and suppressing First Amendment freedom of expression and association."
Oddly enough, that's remarkably similar to a statement Church's Select Committee on Intelligence Activities issued nearly 30 years ago when it deemed COINTELPRO "a sophisticated vigilante program aimed squarely at preventing the exercise of First Amendment rights or speech and association." Is everything old becoming new again?
Luckily, we have a still have some lawmakers who take their responsibilities seriously. "I will be following this case closely to help make sure that the Department of Justice protects and defends people's constitutional rights,'' Sen. Charles Grassley said of the Drake subpoenas. "Prosecutors should be especially vigilant about using extraordinary steps in cases when such a treasured American value as free speech is at stake," Sen. Tom Harkin wrote in a letter to John Ashcroft.
Even so, last year's Dixie Chicks' CD burning rallies could have been ripped from the pages of It Can't Happen Here and regardless how free we think we are (and how preposterous any comparison between Nazi Germany and America might be to most) the haunting words of this anonymous German resonate through time:
In 1987, while reporting on "America's secret government," Bill Moyers urged us to be vigilant. "One day, sadly, we are likely to discover, once again, that while freedom does have enemies in the world, it can also be undermined here at home, in the dark, by those posing as its friends," he said.
Given our recent history, if freedom were to be undermined, how would
we know for sure?
Maureen Farrell is a writer and media consultant who specializes in helping other writers get television and radio exposure.
© Copyright 2004, Maureen Farrell
otherwise noted, all original