By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
By Roy Edroso
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
By Zachary D. Roberts
In announcing this week the arrest of a Chicago-area man for allegedly plotting to set off a radiological bomb, Attorney General John Ashcroft at last did what civil rights activists and lawyers have been demanding for monthshe stood up and named someone caught in his post-9-11 dragnet.
Abdullah al Muhajir, formerly Jose Padilla, was nabbed May 8. Held without any formal charges, the prisoner has been turned over to the military as an "enemy combatant"or so the AG trumpets. Ashcroft called him an Osama bin Laden operative with plans to attack Washington, D.C., claimed he traveled to Pakistan and Afghanistan for Al Qaeda training, and said the government had "multiple independent and corroborating sources" for this info.
Muhajir reportedly was kept for a time as a material witness under the supervision of a federal judge. At one point, federal officials suggested, he had a lawyer and proceedings were being conducted in secret. The mystery deepened with news accounts Tuesday that Muhajir had been handed over to the military because he wouldn't waive his rights and talk to a grand jury in New York.
Its hard to believe anyone in Muhajirs position would waive his rights, and anyhow a suspect need not appear before a grand jury for it to indict him. This chain of events raises the possibility that the government does not have the facts to back up a court case. With federal courts clamping down on the use of the material-witness status to retain detainees, law enforcement punted Muhajir over to the military.
If Ashcroft has really uncovered a plot of the horrible dimensions he is suggesting, then surely he can openly charge Muhajir and place him on trial. If we are indeed threatened with death by radiological bomb, then the least we can expect from the attorney general is the facts, not vague frightening accusations, which unfortunately have been the stuff of Ashcroft's entire reign.
The same goes for the hundreds of other detainees, now locked anonymously in U.S. jails. Who are these people and what are they charged with? It seems that Ashcroft is only willing to name names when it benefits his battered reputation as a crime fighter.
For conservatives long bent on replacing the noxious socialistic residue of the New Deal with smaller, less obtrusive government, George Bush's proposed cabinet-level department of homeland security must pose a quandary.
Here is their very own president abandoning the quest for smaller government in favor of a growing federal bureaucracy. He wants thousands more FBI special agents to not only pore over electronic communications in search of the furtive terrorist, but also to install Trojan-horse software on home computers so they can root out porn addicts and people with unsavory, anti-American thoughts. Not to mention the repackaging of various government functions in a hastily drawn-up, sprawling new entity that would pull together such disparate fiefdoms as the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, immigration control, and the lifesaving Coast Guard.
From the conservative point of view, however, a little opportunism may well be in order. Perhaps they're howling less than expected because the Homeland Security Department would finally give them a mechanism for replacing the hated welfare state with a smoothly calibrated police one. If you're stopped for speeding, the new federal force could quickly scan your fingerprints for previous criminal activity. It could check out whether you're a welfare cheat or your credit is good, and it could easily read your most recent e-mail to your lover.
Even if a few smaller-government types squawk, there's one group that must be jumping for joy: the Christian fundamentalists. Their interests square with Bush's, in that a powerful, central police state could implement the will of God in a way that can't be achieved through what are quaintly referred to these days as "faith based" initiatives. Prominent among the fundamentalists' concerns is the organization of society around sex so as to reinforce the standard of the decaying male-run family. They want to reach down into every bedroom and set the rules of who has sex when, where, and with whom.
There is nothing new about this. Policing sexual practices long has been the province of American government when it comes to setting welfare rules, providing food stamps, handing out marriage licenses, writing insurance policies, determining adoption regulations, providing tax breaks, etc. Now domestic programs will be placed within the parameters of the search for terrorists, which will be conducted by a police force with the zeal of a Coleen Rowley. The Minnesota FBI agent wanted to get at the man who may turn out to have been part of the 9-11 hijack team. Rowley was famously stymied by the bureaucracy, and now she is asking the FBI to strip away constitutional restraints and clear the path for more assertive local policing.
Needless to say, the new federal police state will be lavishly cloaked in paeans to the Bill of Rights and the American tradition of freedom. But that was also the case when President Nixon in the late 1960s sought support from all the nation's intelligence agencies to help him nail domestic radicals by linking them to foreign revolutionaries. The CIA glumly responded that there was scant connection. But J. Edgar Hoover's FBI, eager to please the president, jumped to the task, and with no evidence, warned that impressionable youth were at risk of falling prey to evil Communist agents. Since they couldn't legally find anything to back up this conclusion, Hoover's men set about spying everywhere, from civil rights organizations to foundations that financed anti-war groups.