September 30, 2002
Congressman John Conyers, Jr.
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
BuzzFlash.com is proud to interview, for the third time, Congressman John Conyers, Jr., Ranking Minority member of the House Judiciary Committee.
Conyers, of Michigan's 14th Congressional District, is a Democrat who continues fight for truth, justice and the American Way.
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BUZZFLASH: Congressman Conyers, it's a pleasure to interview you again.
BuzzFlash wants to cover two areas today, which certainly I'm sure you could expound upon for some time: Iraq and civil liberties, as two separate issues, although you may want to relate them.
Let's start with Iraq. What is your thought about what's going on? Everyone agrees Saddam Hussein is a bad man. But what about the timing? We seem to be getting a hustle and muscle here, that all of a sudden he poses an imminent danger that just happens to coincide with an election coming up. Do you think there's any connection?
CONGRESSMAN JOHN CONYERS, JR.: Well, more and more people are being drawn to that belief, that we have an administration whose ability to use politics, even though it may involve the national interest, is not only possible, but is apparently something they're willing to do. And it's disturbing, because they do it in the name of patriotism, and then anyone who disagrees or questions them or their motives, or doesn't give their motives the highest grades, or people who feel that this administration has insufficient evidence to justify committing ourselves to a war . . . well, this administration questions the patriotism of these people.
Recently, I was rereading Martin Luther King's speech of 1967 at Riverside, where he observed -- in a way, he explained why it took him so long to get around to opposing the war -- the Vietnam War. And the reason is that there are always a number of things going on that make it really more convenient to reluctantly go along with your government, even when you're not particularly comfortable nor convinced of what's happening. For example, he said that there's so many legal intricacies that it's very hard to sort out who's right and who's wrong, that the fact situations are always in great contention.
And here again, we're having -- we heard the administration -- our U.S. administration began by saying that the President didn't have to consult with the Congress. He had the right, the White House said, to operate in whatever manner he saw in the national interest, without any Congressional consultation. Now that was shot down pretty easily, and so he's coming before the Congress.
But the disturbing thing here is that, as he comes before the Congress, we read daily of his preparing for war. It's something like his address to the United Nations, which wasn't a plea for cooperation and understanding, but an announcement that this is what we're going to do, and we hope that you will have the insight, the ability, the willingness to come along with us. So there are great parallels between the events of thirty years ago and what's happening now.
BUZZFLASH: Before President Bush finished his month-long vacation and fundraising traveling in August, there really wasn't much mention of Iraq. I mean, Dick Cheney was talking about it, but Bush came back from "vacation" and Chief of Staff Card said that it's time to put, in essence, the war marketing package together, and let's start selling Iraq. I'm paraphrasing him.
What's happened to our domestic agenda? It sort of seems like this is awfully coincidental timing. Not even the administration is claiming that Saddam Hussein is imminently going to be using weapons of mass destruction against us. But all of a sudden, there's an urgency to attacking him. And we seem to have forgotten that our economy's down the tubes, that the tax cuts don't seem to be working, that the Medicare prescription issue isn't resolved, that the privatization of Social Security was a foolish idea, that the environment is being violated . . . well, it's a list of sins that never ends. These all seem to have gotten lost in the cry for war with Iraq.
CONYERS: And also that we haven't passed the election reform bill to remedy the scandalous electoral situation of November 2000, and there are people still trying to resolve differences in the bankruptcy bill, and slip that through somehow in the closing hours of the 107th session of Congress. So we have a lot of balls to keep our eye on. And of course, as the storm clouds gather over the White House and the Congress, it seems to push these issues back. Of course, we get very little help from the media, which seems more than willing, if not eager, to go along with this kind of approach.
BUZZFLASH: What are you doing as a Congressman and what can the average citizen do to say, "Yes, Saddam Hussein is a bad man, but we seem to be getting a muscle job here on this war, when there are so many more issues that concern us on a day-to-day basis?" And basically what's the rush? Not even the Bush administration's making the argument that we're in imminent danger of attack by Saddam Hussein.
CONYERS: Exactly. Well, first of all, I have issued a statement which will be faxed to you. And I've been speaking out on it everywhere I go.
The next thing I'm doing is I'm putting together a town hall meeting in Detroit to deal with this subject, and I'm inviting as many of my Congressional colleagues who are willing to join me. We're inviting a wide range of Democratic and Republican members of Congress.
Thirdly, I'm going to hold a town hall meeting for young people, to give them a chance to talk with us about how they feel about it. I'm hoping that they will get a chance to work on this in class, and to be prepared to talk about it among themselves.
Number four, I am a part of the alternative resolution that we are trying to get before the Congress as an alternative to the Bush resolution, which urges that we delay anything until we've found whether the inspections are going forward. Then we need to know what the report of the inspectors will be -- will it satisfactorily give us the information about whether there is a threat or not? Or if there is, to what extent? And so these are some of the things I am doing.
And then I'm talking with a lot of my friends in the media like BuzzFlash, Salon, and the African-American press as well.
BUZZFLASH: And what is the alternative to the administration, which seems to run on a campaign of permanent war?
CONYERS: The main alternative is to have an electoral success 42 days from now in the Congressional seats, the Senatorial seats, and in local elections throughout the states, to make sure that he gets the message that it's what he's doing and saying that's leading more and more people to remove their vote of confidence from this administration, or people that are connected with it.
BUZZFLASH: Now let me ask you, we've discussed with you before, in our prior two interviews, the issue of civil liberties, which is close to your heart, particularly given your position on the Judiciary Committee. It seems that we're getting our civil liberties squeezed even more.
We wanted to just ask you about one example, which, to us, vividly indicates that Mr. Bush's words, on how precious our freedoms are, may be disingenuous. Wherever Bush goes, and Mr. Cheney, these First Amendment zones are set up that are far away from where the they are speaking -- usually not in sight of reporters or Bush or Cheney. And from the reports we've received, people are arrested if they have an anti-Bush sign and they stray away from these fenced-in zones. However, when Secretary of State Powell went to Africa recently -- South Africa -- for the Summit on the Environment, he was heckled and jeered, and no one arrested the protestors. And we respect Secretary Powell, but our point is that in South Africa, it seems, there's more freedom to protest than in the United States. And yet Mr. Bush keeps saying we have to fight this war to preserve our freedoms, while they are doing everything possible to stifle protest and to arrest any people who exercise their First Amendment rights. We think that's kind of symbolic of the hypocrisy of this administration and how they are trampling on the First Amendment. Do you have any reaction to that?
CONYERS: Well, of course: I oppose it.
But this has to go into our history files -- along with a long list of insults to our due process, our civil liberties, and our First Amendment rights, that have been committed without so much as a fare-thee-well from the Department of Justice -- because we have an Attorney General who feels that he must employ the full, unlimited fury of the Department of Justice on new immigrants, on Americans, on people that are of Arab descent or look like they're of Arab descent. And he's now validated racial profiling.
We've turned back the clock on the Constitutional right to be charged in a court -- in an open court by your accuser. We've sanctioned the wiretapping of attorneys who represent clients. We've created a whole new category of arrests, known as suspicion. And it is becoming more clear that these are, taken altogether, pretty serious matters. These actions flow from the reiterated assumption that to fight terrorists, we must give up some Constitutional civil liberties and due process rights.
It is not clear to me, however, why this should be the case at all. And so, with that assumption, you get all of these things. Many of the things we've seen done have taken place outside of the Patriot Act, which was, by the way, substituted by the White House, in a very improper manner, for the unanimous Anti-Patriot Act that myself and the Republican Chairman of the Judiciary Committee negotiated and crafted in such a way that every member voted for it.
BUZZFLASH: If I recall, in our last interview, you mentioned that the White House, at the last minute, inserted changes to the original bill.
CONYERS: They switched the whole bill.
BUZZFLASH: And most of the people who voted for the bill weren't even aware of the changes. Is that right?
CONYERS: Well, they couldn't be, because there weren't any copies of the changes that the White House made in a several-hundred-page document. So they were bamboozled. What they were confronted with is, basically, "show that you're behind the war effort and vote for the U.S.A. Patriot Act. Patriot - get it?" That's how it was put to them.
BUZZFLASH: As you've pointed out over the past, this administration, more than any other, has taken so many freedoms -- basic Constitutional rights -- away from the American people. At what point have the terrorists won because our society has changed to the point that we no longer enjoy the freedoms that we're supposed to be defending?
CONYERS: From a civil libertarian's view, it can be argued that the terrorists are winning. The more we give up, the more like them that we're becoming. And, by the way, the more harm that is being visited upon millions of Americans, because at the same time the budget is being eviscerated.
We've flipped into a deficit situation again -- after the Clinton administration. We're billions of dollars in debt now. We're in the red. And any beginning of an all-out attack on Iraq will only worsen the economic situation. So what is happening is that we are losing not only in our Constitutional arena, but we're also losing in terms of how we keep America strong, safe, free, healthy, and economically viable.
BUZZFLASH: In closing, what is your message? The administration seems very skilled at using fear to keep Americans from focusing on issues that affect them daily: such as their wages, their jobs, and their Social Security. We live in a constant state of alerts which never materialize, and come out of nowhere: orange alerts, blue alerts, yellow alerts. You know, we're really in a state of siege created more by our own government, at this particular time, than by terrorists. How do you tell Americans not to live in fear, but to go forward proudly on November 5th and vote out of a sense of patriotism and confidence that democracy ultimately will prevail?
CONYERS: I think that those that try to market these kind of political concepts end up falling on their face.
BUZZFLASH: You're talking about the administration?
CONYERS: I'm talking about the administration.
Because what we have to do is let truth be the light that tells people what they ought to do, and how they ought to vote, and whether they should vote at all. And unless we're willing to shine that light . . . and I want people -- when I hold my town hall meetings, I'm going to have, or at least invite people -- who have views different from mine. Because until we begin to examine this, and let people arrive at their own conclusions, I'm convinced that if people look at the two opposing points of view that most people will understand it and do the right thing.
What I am concerned about is this large body of citizenry who've given up on all of us -- the people that are trying to delay a war, and the people that want to go right away. They're saying, look, this has nothing to do with me. And those of us who are trying to make democracy work by enlarging the voting process and the understanding that has to go with the voting process can win the day if we present our positions clearly and forcefully in these next few weeks. That's the beginning of turning this around.
BUZZFLASH: So in closing, what is the most important thing BuzzFlash readers can do now to fight for democracy, their civil liberties, and the Constitution?
CONYERS: Without a doubt, vote November 5th. You've got to vote your beliefs.
BUZZFLASH: And take a few people with you.
CONYERS: Yes. And, in a way, look at it like this -- this is so simple. This is not asking anybody to join in a rebel movement, or that we have to resort to violence, or that you have to donate huge amounts of money. Just vote for what it is you believe in and want. And if I can persuade the majority -- a large majority of the American people -- to do that, I would be even more confident than I am now that we're going to take back the House on November 5th.
BUZZFLASH: Thank you very much for your time, Congressman.
CONYERS: I always like talking with you.
BUZZFLASH: Best of luck to you. We need your voice in there. Keep it up.
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visit Congressman John Conyers on the Web at http://www.house.gov/conyers/
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