The War on the Bill of Rights

Coming: A National Wiretap Warrant

There is still time to save the freedoms our government says we're fighting for. And that requires doing—and planning—with the confidence that most Americans will applaud.

The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, which nearly destroyed the First Amendment, ignited enough opposition to elect Thomas Jefferson in 1800, and he released all those imprisoned by that law. The "Red Scare" of 1919 and the early 1920s—with its mass arrests of "subversives" in 33 cities, without a semblance of due process—was eventually seen by the citizenry as a disgrace. And in the 1950s, Joe McCarthy was finally overcome.

If we do not spread the word of this bipartisan attack on the Bill of Rights—and insist on our First Amendment rights to protest—we will become accomplices in this war against the Constitution. American flags are everywhere. I bought one at a vigil for the dead at Union Square. But what do those flags stand for?

Illustration by Lloyd Miller

In the September 17 Daily News, Richard Sisk did the kind of reporting that will continually be needed to awaken enough of the populace to rescue the Constitution.

Sisk noted that New York is now the headquarters for the multi-agency Joint Terrorism Task Force. He quoted Justice Department spokeswoman Mindy Tucker as saying, as Sisk summarized it, that "U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White, top federal prosecutor for the Southern District of New York, has been given extraordinary powers to proceed in secrecy against anyone implicated 'in the entire attack against the four airliners.' " (Emphasis added.)

What does "implicated" mean? Reasonable suspicion? Probable cause? And how will we know whether basic due process has been afforded those "implicated" when, as Sisk continued, the Justice Department says, "Search warrants and records will be sealed. Law enforcement also no longer will disclose when arrests are made or when material witnesses are taken into custody."

And we're supposed to be telling China how to reform its justice system, which functions in secrecy as it crunches human rights?

In the September 24 National Law Journal, David C. Vladeck, director of the Public Citizen Litigation Group, says that the public demand for security will support "virtually everything the government does in terms of intelligence gathering and assessment, immigration, and telecommunications."

He could have added: the rapid increase in checkpoints in public places; the profiling of suspects by how they look and dress; and the eventual, sooner rather than later, creation of a national ID card. That card, with its relentless computer chip, will enable the authorities to keep pervasive track of what we do and where we go.

"These are very sobering times," Vladeck says, "and I think the temperament of the country will tolerate the kind of measures we might at one point have thought intolerable."

It's up to us as to whether he's right.

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