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Orange Alert for Civil Liberties
L ast October, Senator Russell Feingold asked the Department of Justice to “describe what efforts are being made within the department to broaden the powers of the USA Patriot Act.” He never received a response, but now the American people have the answer.
A leaked copy of the Bush administration’s draft Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003 (DSEA) indicates that even after the 2001 Patriot Act expanded federal police powers while curtailing privacy rights, the Bush administration thinks Americans are still too free and government too small. Like the Patriot Act, the massive Security Act draft contains a few measures that could help catch a terrorist, surrounded by many that propel us toward a secretive police state.
For starters, the DSEA would revoke key elements of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), enacted to prevent government from keeping secrets from the public unless a legitimate security concern exists. Currently, FOIA gives us the right to know if a missing person is in the custody of any government agency. But under DSEA, anyone—even U.S. citizens—could be detained secretly in connection with any “terrorist” investigation, a term lacking legal definition.
Does abandoning this bedrock principle of freedom make us safer? Not likely. The Freedom of Information Act already allows the government to withhold such information if disclosure could hamper investigation of other suspects or events. Under the government veil of secrecy established last year, we have no legal right to know who among the 1,000-plus people secretly detained by the Bush administration since September 11 was charged with a terror-related crime.
Chemical and nuclear corporations may be among the few entities cheering the DSEA. The Act would grant a long-standing dream of chemical corporations: stripping citizens of their right to know about threats posed by toxic chemicals and the risks of spills or explosions in our communities. Like many Bush administration proposals, this draft smells like a case of waiting for the right opportunity to provide cover for pre-existing agendas.
When asked about the document, a Department of Justice spokesperson claimed that it represented “staff discussions.” But the DSEA clearly is ready for introduction any time (online at ReclaimDemocracy.org)—perhaps while the public is distracted by an attack on Iraq.
The DSEA contains many proposals disturbing for immigrants, including increased punishments for violations of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Perhaps the most alarming proposal (Section 501) would give the Justice Department power to revoke a person’s permanent resident alien status or even U.S. citizenship for participating in or “providing material support to...a terrorist organization.”
Since the 2001 Patriot Act redefined “terrorist activity” so broadly that minor vandalism could qualify, donating to a nonprofit organization that, unknown to you, is on Ash- croft’s hit list could end your life as an American citizen and resident.
Section 312 would revoke laws that prohibit police from spying on citizens without substantive evidence of criminal activity. This effectively reauthorizes the CIA and FBI to engage in domestic terrorism against activist groups—practices that became illegal after the well-documented COINTELPRO program abuses of the 1960s ruined the lives of many citizen activists.
Denver area activists don’t need to be warned. Last year, they learned that Denver police had created “spy files” on more than 3,000 activists and 200 civic organizations for their organizing activities or participation in rallies. The Nobel Peace Prize-winning Quaker group, the American Friends Service Committee, is among the groups labeled “criminal extremist” by Denver police.
This would be laughable if the news hadn’t prompted many calls to targeted groups by people asking to have their names removed from databases. Imagine the damage to human rights organizations so labeled at the national level.
These threats are just a few among dozens of proposals within the DSEA. Thanks to a brave soul at the Justice Department, we have a chance to examine this assault on civil liberties before it is thrown on us amid the fervor of attacking Iraq or terrorist threats.
Jeff Milchen directs ReclaimDemocracy.org, a nonprofit organization devoted to reviving democracy and restoring citizen authority over corporations.
Z Magazine Archive
CUBAN 5 - From May 30 to June 5, supporters of the Cuban 5 will gather in Washington DC to raise awareness about the case and to demand a humanitarian solution that will allow the return of these men to their homeland.
Contact: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike- A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides, music, exhibitors, and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; mailbikesnotbombs.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in NYC.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduate Center, Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16 in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; convention @adc. org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5-day Seminar at the University of Havana, plus visits to a co-op and educational and medical institutions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.globaljustice center.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; email@example.com; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process in the U.S.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from across the continent to learn skills and build one big union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13, the 11th Annual Peacestock will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers, and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www. peacestockvfp.org.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations, and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference.
Contact: email@example.com; http://yeacamp.org/.