"Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity" (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 1963). Never were wiser or more prophetic words spoken. Now in 2008, we are faced with a legislative proposal based on fear, ignorance and the very stupidity spoken of in Dr. King's warning. That legislative proposal named the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Act of 2007, otherwise known as S.B. 1959, is the companion bill to a previous House version (H.B. 1955), sponsored by Rep. Jane Harman (D-Ca.). S.B. 1959 is now under consideration in the Senate Homeland Security Committee, chaired by Senator Joe Lieberman. This bill is of importance as it deals with the further erosion of our civil liberties during a Presidential election cycle. Ironically, a presidential contender is on the committee; namely Senator Barack Obama. Senator Clinton is not on the committee, though her office has been contacted regarding this potential law, as was Senator McCain. S. B. 1959 would permit the allocation of precious resources for the express purpose of investigating cases of suspected 'violent radicals' or 'homegrown terrorists.'
Using deliberately vague definitions of 'violence,' 'violent radicalization,' and 'homegrown terrorism', this bill provides for the establishment of a McCarthy-esque Committee which would travel the country, holding hearings and conducting investigations for the express purpose of identifying 'radicals,' and designating and registering them as 'homegrown terrorists.' Once so designated; all the provisions of Patriot I & II, Military Commissions, etc., (including our government's alleged right to torture 'enemy combatants),' could in theory kick into gear. Those unable to establish their 'patriotic credentials,' to THE COMMITTEE, would find their lives destroyed , (much like McCarthy's victims some 50 years ago), all in a stupid, myopic attempt to protect US from THEM. The real agenda is obvious--to silence dissent by interrogating the public and criminalizing those with 'inquiring minds' and effective public rhetoric.
We haven't found Osama, but we can send Old Mother Hubbard to the federal penitentiary, or worse. Once discovered by the 'committee' as suspect; the provisions of Patriot, Military Commissions, etc. , could come into play, including those which allow for illegal detention of undetermined length, the administration of torture and the possibility of illegal rendition to a country with no queasiness regarding waterboarding or decapitation. The crime for these poor bastards is that of thought and speech; daring to question and challenge the government and their corporate masters in the name of the Constitution and Bill of Rights. You could be jailed on a federal offense for 'threatening to use force or violence ...to promote...religious, social or POLITICAL beliefs. More specifically, S.B. 1959 states that :
..."the term 'violent radicalization' means the process of adopting or promoting an extremist belief system for the purpose of facilitating ideologically based violence to advance POLITICAL, RELIGIOUS OR SOCIAL CHANGE" (text of S.B. 1959, p. 2, 2007).
..."the term 'homegrown terrorism' means the use, planned use, or threatened us, of force or violence by a group or individual BORN, RAISED, OR BASED and operating primarily within the United States or any possession of the United States to INTIMIDATE OR COERCE THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT, THE CIVILIAN POPULATION OF THE UNITED STATES, OR ANY SEGMENT THEREOF, IN FURTHERANCE OF POLITICAL OR SOCIAL OBECTIVES" (text of S.B. 1959, p. 3, 2007).
..."the term 'ideologically based violence' means the use, planned use, or threatened use of force or violence by a group or individual to promote the group or individual's POLITICAL, RELIGIOUS, OR SOCIAL BELIEFS" (text of S.B. 1959, p. 3, 2007).
The most dangerous section of this bill, lies in a very benign looking phrase, under the definition regarding 'homegrown terrorism.' In large capitals, this clause stating that ...'a group or individual BORN, RAISED, OR BASED...' could then be classified as a 'terrorist,' under this new and vague designation. Translation: U.S. citizens could then be classified as 'homegrown terrorists,' and as such, theoretically lose all their rights in the same manner as those designated 'enemy combatants,' all for the crime of questioning or verbally challenging their government. This innocuous phrase allows for the 'GUANTANAMO-IZING OF U.S. CITIZENS. Those politicos who would scream 'foul' at this analysis, only prove their disdain for constitutional rule and civil rights.
Normally, our system of law, (dating back to Magna Carta), is built on the provision of detailed definitions regarding elements of specific crimes. Such elements must be met, or no legitimate prosecution can advance. The detailing of criminal elements and subsequent criminal definitions is to prevent prejudicial or POLITICAL PROSECUTIONS, based on the whim of a would be dictator (or 'would-be' dictatorial committee). This innocent 'little phrase' theoretically undoes all that and more. Our rights as U.S. citizens are forfeit should this bill pass in the Senate, as easily as it did in the House. The Committee would have vast powers to recommend deadly actions to the Executive branch, against citizens, with no legal recourse for 'citizen-victims.'
The bill goes on to include a section regarding the internet. The section reads as follows:
"(3) The Internet has aided in facilitating violent radicalization, ideologically based violence, and the homegrown terrorism process in the United States by PROVIDING ACCESS to broad and constant streams of terrorist-related propaganda to United States citizens"...(S.B. 1959, p. 3, 2007).
Apparently, now the Congress, (Dems and Republicans alike), have decided to protect us from ACCESS to 'propaganda.' Democratic Rep. Jane Harman and her legislative syncophants have assigned themselves as the nation's NANNY, protecting us from 'dangerous thoughts.' Keep in mind, 'propaganda' like beauty, ...'is in the eye of the beholder.' Frankly, this is blatant censorship that these legislators are proposing, specifically singling out the internet. Can any of these folks spell ...free speech?
Another section specifically states ..."(7) Individuals prone to violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism, and ideologically based violence span all races, ethnicities, and religious beliefs, and individuals should not be targeted based solely on race, ethnicity, or religion" (S.B. 1959, p. 4, 2007).
Notice what has been omitted--POLITICAL VIEWS. Arbitrary prosecutions allegedly cannot be pursued based 'solely' on 'race, ethnicity or religion,' but they can be based solely on political viewpoints. This is the 'little phrase,' that expressly permits POLITICAL PROSECUTIONS. The permission for such political prosecutions is granted by the very omission of this condition in the above mentioned exclusionary statement. Didn't Dostoevsky write major novels as a literary protest against such POLITICAL PROSECUTIONS? This is the stuff of dictatorships reminiscent of Hitler or Stalin, not the U.S. Constitution.
Unfortunately, the plot thickens in the next section, regarding alleged protections of our rights as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution; though the 'little clause' inserted here, grants no protection at all. Here it is:
"(8) Any measure taken to prevent violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism, and ideologically based violence and homegrown terrorism in the United States SHOULD NOT violate the constitutional rights, civil rights, or civil liberties of United States citizens and lawful permanent residents " (S.B. 1959, p. 5, 2007).
The trick here are the two words, SHOULD NOT; which are in the realm of legal 'snake oil salesmen,' and 'used car dealers.' Simply put; SHOULD NOT---DOES NOT MEAN THE SAME AS----CAN NOT. This 'civil rights protection' provision is no protection at all. Laws are written to EXPRESSLY FORBID IN SPECIFIC LANGUAGE AND SPECIFIC SITUATIONS--CERTAIN UNETHICAL ACTS--OR TO FORBID THE REVOKATION OF CIVIL RIGHTS. THE WORDS 'SHOULD NOT' ARE A MERE SUGGESTION, NOT AN ACTIONABLE STATEMENT OF OUR CIVIL RIGHTS, OR CLEAR DELINEATION OF LEGAL STANDING REGARDING REDRESS OF CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT DEPRIVATION. That's akin to the used car dealer asking you to sign the contract, with no specific protection plan, but assuring you that this car 'SHOULD NOT' give you any trouble. Sure Senator, by the way--can I offer to sell you a bridge I know of, in Brooklyn?
Now, in all fairness; SEC. 899E. states that the 'Secretary' ..."shall ensure that the efforts of the Department to prevent ideologically based violence and homegrown terrorism as described in this subtitle do not violate the constitutional rights, civil rights, and civil liberties of United States citizens and lawful permanent residents" (S.B. 1959, p. 20, 2007). Again, this SEEMS reasonable, until you realize the semantic trap that has been employed. Once designated as a 'homegrown terrorist,' (a category which most probably would result in further 'enemy combatant' status; all constitutional rights and protections have been voided via legislative fiat. In short, how can this committee guarantee the rights of citizens, as mandated by the U.S. Constitution/Bill of Rights; if once named a 'violent radical' or 'homegrown terrorist,' you're stripped of those same rights? How can they protect our rights, if the Committee has sole discretion to decide--what constitutes 'violence.' By the very vagueness of these 'definitions,' the local pastor organizing a boycott of pharmaceutical companies using stem cell research, or the elderly teacher holding a cardboard sign in a peaceful protest against the war--could be held as felons, and designated as 'violent, homegrown terrorists.'
As for the remainder of this bill; you can read it in all it's grizzly, vague glory-- for yourself by 'googling' S.B. 1959. The entire bill is some 21 pages long, and includes further questionable applications. There's a listing of which governmental bodies would appoint such committee members, (with no public involvement), and provisions which allow for 'consultant services.' That's right folks; Blackwater, Inc. could 'legally' be involved in the policing of this committee's work. Just think, the 'alleged' injustices and abuses of Iraq--all coming to a city and time zone near you.
Now the 'good news.' This obscene bill, as stated before, is presently 'in committee.' This means that it has not come to a vote of the entire Senate. The Senate Committee on Homeland Security has to decide by vote, whether this bill goes on to a full vote of the Senate. When a bill is 'in committee; the committee can pursue three potential actions: moving the bill to a full consideration and eventual vote of the entire Senate, refusing to move the bill to a vote of the entire Senate thus ('killing the bill'), or 'tabling'/(postponing) the bill from further consideration, for either a specified or unspecified time. The Chair, can at any time--kill the bill. At this point in time; the bill is 'under consideration.'
Though Senators claim they cannot discuss bills while under committee consideration; that is not exactly true. They CHOOSE not to discuss these bills, and will then claim that 'Senate Rules' preclude them from further discussion outside of committee. What these Senators fail to understand is a set of rules enumerated in the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, which by federal law SUPERCEDE Senate Rules. Each member of Congress takes an oath of office which requires them to..."support and defend the Constitution of the United States." They have a clear mandate to provide accountability and transparency beyond the "Wolf Blitzer CNN soundbite." I urge the public to contact these senators and voice your objections to any further seizure of our civil rights. Here are the names of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security:
Sen. Lieberman (Chairman)
Sen. Collins (Senate sponsor for S.B. 1959)
Sen. BARACK OBAMA (Presidential contender)
Did you notice the single presidential candidate on this list? Each senator's office was contacted, asking for any quotes or official statements. To their credit regarding political etiquette; several press secretaries did respond to the inquiry. Each response was identical; either the 'honorable senator' did not form an opinion at this juncture, or discussion of the bill was 'on background,' which is equivalent to 'no comment.' So much for accountability and transparency.
Sen. Obama's office did respond, and promised to send an official statement. The first contact to Obama's office was made 2/13/08, with the second contact on 2/25/08. A final contact was made on 3/10/08. His press secretary, though very pleasant and 'hopeful' did not follow through on this request. To date; no official statement has been received.
In conclusion; it is safe to observe that history IS written by the victors. Right now we are witnessing history in the making, and I'm not talking about the 'Hillary, Barack and Oprah road shows'. When we look at the narrowly written history of 9/11; a narrative of unquestioned authority comes into the public focus. Our 'shores' had been attacked by some allegedly unknown assailant, and we suddenly became aware how small our world had become. The corporate media pushed 9/11----24/7. All 9/11, all the time. Terrorism had come to our shores, and in a time zone near you.
Our elected representatives, (along with our UNELECTED President), reacted to this catastrophic event by initiating multiple laws over the next several years (to the present date), which are draconian in nature and would have been decried as fascism pre--9/11. Yet, we were complicit in our mass 'manufactured consent,' as we meekly watched our government representatives sign away our Bill of Rights.
We lost habeas, and gained martial law based on presidential whim, pre-packaged in a shiny, patriotic, to-go container. Through a series of signing statements and executive orders, paired with Patriot, Military Commissions, Warner Authorization, etc.; our right to dissent was becoming criminalized. Now we see the final 'nail in the coffin,' as the "Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Act of 2007 has reached the U.S. Senate's Committee on Homeland Security. This bill would establish a distinct category of 'thought crimes,' 'speech crimes,' and 'political prosecutions,' while we fight and die to bring 'democracy' to Iraq.
As we come closer to the presidential election----there is an eerie silence once again, from the candidates themselves. Rather than condemn ANOTHER civil rights intrusion, in the name of 'alleged' security needs--the candidates are sponsoring political shouting matches, each crying that their opponent, doesn't 'play well with others.' When did the needs of a democratic republic morph into a televised popularity contest? As I listen to each candidate pontificate on their opposition's 'accountability deficit'; I consider the words of another political figure, who had a few thoughts regarding civil liberties and their vital role in a healthy democratic republic.
"It takes a lot of degeneration before a country falls into dictatorship. But we should avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings." (Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day-O'Connor).
If only our presidential candidates could learn that lesson.