Column No. 36 By Steven Jonas, MD, MPH - October 28, 2004

In my column of Sept. 30, 2004, “The 800lb. Gorillas in the Room,” I referred to the Patriot Act as Gorilla No. 2.  Fortunately and importantly, Senator Kerry is beginning to talk about the Act a bit.  However, he still only dances around the issue, if for no other reason than that the Republicans have set up a “Patriot Act Trap” for the Democrats with legislation now before Congress, conveniently just before Election Day.

Guess what?  If you are against the Patriot Act I, if you are against making permanent all of the provisions of P.A. I, if you are very concerned about limitations on freedom and liberty already imposed under the original -- which limitations will become even more oppressive under the new legislation should it pass – then, according to DeLay et al you are at the very least a wimp on domestic security and probably even an outright ally of the terrorists.

We know what the Patriot Act I has already done to seriously undermine the protections of both liberty and freedom traditionally provided to Americans by the Constitution.  Of course in the history of our country there have been lapses at different times in those protections.  However, for the most part those lapses have occurred because the constitutional protections were violated in particular instances for particular persons.  For example, during World War II American citizens of Japanese descent were imprisoned simply because they were of Japanese descent; during the McCarthy Period free speech protections for many left-wingers were abrogated.  By stark contrast, though, with the Patriot Act, the very nature of the Constitution is being changed, for everyone.  The Constitution is in fact being amended, and it happens that it is being amended by statute, not by the amendment process itself.

As noted in my Sept. 30 column, I have visited the issue of the evisceration of major elements of the Bill of Rights by Patriot I in many other columns, so will revisit it only briefly here.  Under the present Patriot Act among other things, the President can designate any person as a label any person, citizen or non-citizen, a “terrorist” or “terrorist threat.”  Then the President or his designee can: order, under the President’s authority alone, the search of such a person’s home without obtaining a judicial search warrant or even notifying the person that such a search was made; then proceed to have that person arrested and imprisoned without making the fact of the arrest public, without informing the person about the offense with which they are being charged; and may hold the person indefinitely without access to a lawyer and without being brought to trial, not even before a grand jury proceeding.  Thus, at a stroke, the Patriot Act has repealed the Fourth Amendment’s protection against warrant-less searches without probable cause supported by oath or affirmation, the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of the due process of law, and the Sixth Amendment’s guarantees of “speedy” jury trials and the right to cross examine witnesses in criminal cases, with full knowledge of the charges and the opportunity to call upon witnesses for the defendant.

Certain of these provisions have been held unconstitutional by a closely split Supreme Court, but the current regime has not backed down in its drive to have them on the books in some form.  If the Georgites win the election, and get the opportunity to replace even just Sandra Day O’Connor on the Supreme Court, rest assured that the current anti-Administration decisions would be reversed.  It is likely that the reason that they have not gone further than they already have is that they are waiting until they have a compliant Supreme Court in place, in a second term.

But why do the Georgites want these powers?  Certainly not because they have to have them in order to “fight terrorism.”  If they really wanted to do that, they already can under pre-Patriot Act statutes.  For example, there is plenty of evidence, as gathered by the 9/11 Commission itself, that the plans for the World Trade Center horror could have been detected and the attack aborted.  If only this Administration, instead of focusing from its beginning on finding a reason to attack Iraq (viz. Paul O’Neill and Richard Clarke) had concentrated on counter-terrorism, perhaps they might have been able to do as well as the Clinton Administration did when it foiled the 1998 “12 airliners” and the 2000 “Millennium Bomb” plots.  Further, European nations are constantly finding and arresting potential terrorists without enacting basic changes in their criminal justice systems.  (The latter, it happens, would be very difficult for any EU nation to do, given the human rights mandates built into the EU agreements.)  No, the police forces of the numerous countries that have caught a whole bunch of bad guys are just doing what police forces are supposed to do, and doing it well.

The purpose of the Patriot Act would not be, it would seem, further to strengthen “Homeland Security,” beyond improving police work.  As Ari Berman pointed out in “The Nation: The Daily Outrage,” of 10/18/04, 5:20PM: “President Bush frequently invokes homeland security to bolster the commander-in- chief credentials essential to his re-election campaign.  ‘One thing is for certain,’ Bush told reporters in a rare press conference last August.  ‘We will do our duty to best secure our country.’  However, report after report, from a multitude of bipartisan sources over the last three years, directly contradicts Bush's promise, citing dangerous under-funding, misplaced priorities, over-reliance on private industry and dire neglect at local, state, and federal levels.”

Berman goes on to say that “a new report released Monday by the nonpartisan watchdog group Public Citizen examines the security of our nation's nuclear and chemical plants, seaports, water supply systems, and transportation of hazardous materials.  ‘The overall security picture reveals that the United States has made very little progress in the sectors that may put Americans most at risk,’ the study found.  ‘In many cases, the administration and its Republican allies in Congress have either opposed security reforms or obstinately refused to act even though ready solutions are obvious.’”

So if it the Patriot Act is not about catching about particular terrorists and not about improving homeland security in general, what is it about?  By the process of elimination it would seem that, it cannot be about anything else but giving the Georgites broad-ranging powers of oppression and repression against any kind of dissent, verbal or physical, legal or illegal, to virtually any of its policies and programs.  The Attorney General is already on record as equating any disagreement with this regime’s approach to dealing with terrorism as treasonous.  Ann Coulter, one of the darlings of the Republican Religious Right, equates what she defines as “liberalism” on any issue with treason.  With the powers granted to the President by the act as it now stands, even before Patriot II strengthens those powers, he can label anyone he wants as a “terrorist” or an abettor of same, and lock them up indefinitely, without charges, without access to any part of the judicial system, and without any public notification.

If, in the realm of civil rights and liberties, the powers granted to the President seem to bear a strong resemblance to those granted to Adolf Hitler by the German Enabling Act of March 24, 1933 (see my TPJ columns of June 3 and June 24, 2004 on the comparison between how the Hitlerites used the Reichstag Fire politically and how the Georgites are using 9/11), in my view that is no coincidence.  Now one might say: “But Hitler and his financial backers were looking for ways to suppress major political and economic dissent from the Communist and Socialist Parties and the powerful German trade unions.  No equivalent of any of those powerful forces exists here, now.”  That is true.  However, consider the following.

Perhaps Bush and his financial backers may not have done very well in advance planning for dealing with the situation in Iraq following the invasion.  But dollars to donuts they know very well what is going to happen in this country as the chickens come home to roost as a result of  their policies on taxation, the economy, Social Security, higher education, the military, and foreign policy.  For example, when the credit crash, described by David Broder in his article, “Fiscal Ruin on the Horizon” (The Washington Post on Sunday, October 17, 2004; Page B 07), that will surely come should the Georgites get in again by hook or by crook, does happen there might well be millions of people protesting on the streets.  And that is not the only issue that would bring people out in numbers never seen before in this country.  Think: the financial collapse of the health care delivery system under the assault of the profit-makers; the end of Social Security as we have known it under the assault of the privatizers; the next Great Depression resulting from the credit crash and the increasing export of capital; to say nothing of the results of the Draconian laws governing private thought and behavior that could be enacted in a second Bush term as part of implementing the agenda of the Christian Right.

In my view, it is to be able to very forcibly control the massive dissent foreseen to the oppression and repression of the vast majority of the people of our country on behalf of the super-rich and the major corporations that form the foundation of the Georgites and Georgitism that is what the Patriot Act is all about.  Pure and simple, and frightening.