Tuesday, April 05, 2005

I’ve Got a Really Bad Feeling About This

Two famous quotes come to mind immediately when the subject of the Patriot Act, legislation passed after 9/11/2001 to make it easier for law enforcement to detain suspected terrorists, comes up. One quote is from a Founding Father of the United States, and the other is from an opponent of Nazism and holocaust survivor.

During an argument in the American Continental Congress regarding the use of the term “Tyrant” to describe King George in the proposed Declaration of Independence, a proponent for the removal of the word asked why Jefferson thought the English Monarch was a “tyrant.” Jefferson responded that the invasion of homes without a warrant, people held without being charged, and more usurpations of British freedoms on the colonists, made King George a “tyrant.” The delegate who wanted “tyrant” deleted from the document, agreed that the acts against British citizens in the colonies were indeed troublesome, but he said, “These are dangerous times.” To this remark, Benjamin Franklin noted,

“Be careful—anyone willing to give up a few liberties for the sake of some temporary safety, deserves neither liberty, nor safety.”

Franklin culled from 7 decades of experience both abroad and in America to come up with this profound warning.

Martin Niemöller was a pastor in Berlin who opposed Hitler’s actions. As Niemöller spoke later in life about the events of the 1930’s and 1940’s, he often told the following story:

“In Germany they came first for the Communists and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me--and by that time no one was left to speak up.”

In fact, in these “dangerous times” now, the Patriot Act has not been used to try a single terrorist since it was instituted by congress in 2001 in response to the events of 9/11. It has actually been used to go after any of several possible perpetrators of crimes other than terrorism, because of its all-encompassing and convenient lack of civil protections, formerly guaranteed by the US Constitution.

Today, FBI Director Robert Mueller asked not only for the temporary Patriot Act, which expires at the end of this year, to be renewed; he also asked that the bureau’s ability to obtain records without asking a judge be expanded. The more sinister element, beyond the loss of civil liberties, is that this is happening at the same time as Bush gets the lowest popularity rating of a second-term president in history at 45% approval, and a majority of Americans – 53% to 45% -- say the Iraq War was not worth fighting. Trouncing Constitutional liberties at home makes it easier to control the restless masses, who are either fearful of another possible terrorist attack and therefore willing to go along with the attitude they would “rather be bugged than bombed,” as I once heard it put, or they are fearful of the threat of the Patriot Act being used against them.

Let’s not be deceived by any political squabbling takes place over whether to renew this hastily-shoved-through legislation, which was hardly even read by those who voted for or against it. Let’s not be lulled by the excuse that only people doing the wrong thing in the wrong place are going to have the Patriot Act used against them anyway. I don’t want them to come for me, and have there be no one left to speak. What Franklin also knew, was that hard-won freedoms, easily given up, are harder to win back.

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