12/01 Terrorism’s Victim: The Constitution

Terrorism’s Main Victim: The Constitution
Larry Pratt

Passage of the recent USA Patriot bill, better know as the government terror bill, was advertised as providing the government with the tools needed to fight terrorism.

Now, isn’t that what we all want after the terrorist attack of September 11? And the likely terrorist suspects shouldn’t be that hard to target, right? Most people would start with Islamic extremists like Usama bin Laden who get important support from the governments such as Saudi Arabia which share bin Laden’s views but lack the determination to commit acts of terror themselves.

Unhappily, neither the law nor our leaders have a highly focused view of the target. Homeland Security czar, former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge, had this to say: For people who “lash out” at people who dress differently or practice a different religion — “we have a word for that: terrorism.”

Now, admittedly, lashing out is behavior we should not be encouraging. But making bad manners a federal crime? Talk about zero tolerance!

The government terror law allows our federal police force to define much common crime as terrorism.

As Idaho Rep. Butch Otter said, one of the few members of Congress to vote against the terror bill, “This is too broad a distribution of authority and power. Unfortunately the ones who are going to get hurt the worst in this are the law-abiding citizens.”

This sounds just like gun control laws. Criminals at most are inconvenienced while the rest of us find that constitutionally protected behavior is criminalized.

One of the objectionable features of the new law is the so-called “sneak and peak” provision. A rubber-stamp magistrate can now hand out a search warrant leading to a surreptitious invasion of a premises. There need be no notice given to the occupant of the premises.

In George Orwell’s 1984, a bleak novel of a totalitarian future, just this kind of power permitted the dictatorship to keep an eye on every movement of anyone suspected of questioning the government’s authority. Of course, fighting a never-ending war was the justification. Security over freedom was the motto.

Another totalitarian feature of the terror bill is that of the roving wiretap. The Fourth Amendment requires warrants to contain information “particularly describing the place to be searched and the person or things to be seized.” How does the Fourth Amendment square with tapping the phones of anyone a suspect comes into contact with? What if a delivery man suspected of terrorism visits a lawyer’s office? Then all of his privileged client conversations can be tapped by the roving wiretap. How far is this from the room-by-room surveillance devices in Orwell’s 1984?

What if your church was supporting a relief effort in Afghanistan under the Taliban. Or in Iraq during the same time. This could lead some overzealous government terror warrior to suspect that the church might be providing cover for a terrorist network, thus opening the books of the church to government inspection. All that is needed to invoke this incredible power is to intone the word “terrorism.” In addition, it is illegal for the church, business or other organization to tell any of its members, customers or supporters of the government’s violation of their privacy.

Some are not convinced that the government has yet enough power and are calling for a national ID card which would tie each American into educational, employment, medical, recreational and firearms data bases nationwide.

Just as advocates of gun confiscation tell us that criminals will obey whatever gun law is added to the books, so anti-freedom warriors here in Washington tell us that terrorists will be unable to avoid the intrusions of the terror law or of a national ID card.

It should not surprise us that England’s gun ban has been utterly unsuccessful in fighting crime. Quite the contrary. Violent crime there has increased to a level above that of the U.S.

True anti-terrorism will not succeed without the people’s involvement. The founders envisioned a militia — that is, the whole people — to protect the country against enemies foreign and domestic. The politicians in Washington today are acting on the basis that everybody is a suspect. Therefore we should all be disarmed as well as made totally transparent to the gaze of the angels staffing the growing national police bureaucracy.

The time to object is now. Silence will only encourage them.