The Other War

The Bush administration & the end of civil liberties

  • The FBI can order librarians to turn over information about their patrons' reading habits and Internet use. The librarian cannot inform the patron that this information has been provided. Librarians, on the whole, are outraged at their new role; some have taken to posting signs in the library warning users not to use the Internet, others to destroying their logs of Internet users. One librarian said to a Washington Post reporter, "This law is dangerous.... I read murder mysteries--does that make me a murderer? I read spy stories--does that mean I'm a spy?"

  • Foreign citizens charged with a terrorist-related act may be denied access to an attorney and their right to question witnesses and otherwise prepare for a defense may be severely curtailed if the Department of Justice says that's necessary to protect national security. Jose Padilla, the American Muslim fingered by Ashcroft last year as a would-be "dirty bomb" builder, is a case in point.

  • Resident alien men from primarily Middle Eastern and Muslim countries must report for registration. And hundreds of the ones who have reported have been detained and arrested for minor immigration infractions. It recently came to light that immigration authorities are refusing to let the men appear with their attorneys, a refusal that is a violation of Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS, formerly the INS) regulations.

  • Lawful foreign visitors may be photographed and fingerprinted when they enter the country and made to periodically report for questioning.

  • The government can conduct surveillance on the Internet and e-mail use of American citizens without any notice, upon order to the Internet service provider. Internet service providers may not move to quash such subpoenas.

  • The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) can search any car at any airport without a showing of any suspicion of criminal activity.

  • The TSA can conduct full searches of people boarding airplanes and, if the passenger is a child, the child may be separated from the parent during the search. An objection by a parent or guardian to the search will put the objector at the risk of being charged with the crime of obstructing a federal law enforcement officer and tried in federal court. Travelers in Portland and Baltimore have reported such arrests.

  • The TSA is piloting a program to amass all available computerized information on all purchasers of airline tickets, categorize individuals according to their threat to national security, and embed the label on all boarding passes. The Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS II) program is designed to perform background checks on all airline passengers and assigns each passenger a "threat level." Passengers will not be able to ascertain their classification or the basis for the classification.

  • The TSA distributes a "no-fly" list to airport security personnel and airlines that require refusal of boarding and detention of persons deemed to be terrorism or air piracy risks or to pose a threat to airline or passenger safety. This is an expansion of a regulation that since 1990 has looked out for threats to civil aviation. Names are added daily based upon secret criteria. Several lawsuits that challenge these regulations are now pending, some from irate passengers who were mistaken for people on the list.

  • American citizens and aliens can be held indefinitely in federal custody as "material witnesses," a ploy sometimes used as a punitive measure when the government does not have sufficient basis to charge the individual with a terror-related crime. The 1984 material witness law allows the government to detain citizens at will for an arbitrary period of time to give testimony that might be useful in the prosecutions of others. A Jordanian man picked up a few days after September 11 was held more than nine months before being released. And last week a federal judge in Oregon ordered that Mike Hawash, a software engineer and long-time naturalized American citizen who has been held in solitary confinement in a federal prison for more than a month, be questioned by April 29, 2003. It is notable, however, that the judge has already conducted a secret hearing that determined Hawash's detention to be lawful.

  • Immigration authorities may detain immigrants without any charges for a "reasonable period of time." The BCIS need not account for the names or locations of the detainees, and what constitutes a "reasonable period of time" is not defined.

  • American colleges and universities with foreign students must report extensive information about their students to the BCIS. BCIS in turn may revoke student visas for missteps as minor as a student's failure to get an advisor's signature on a form that adds or drops classes. College personnel cannot notify students to correct the lapse in order to save them from deportation. To a very large extent, campus police and security personnel have become agents of the immigration authorities.

  • Accused terrorists labeled "unlawful combatants" can be tried in military tribunals here or abroad, under rules of procedure developed by the Pentagon and the Department of Justice. All it takes to be named an unlawful combatant is the affidavit of a Pentagon employee, who is not required to provide the rationale for his or her decision, even to a federal judge. (In the case of Yaser Hamdi, the federal appellate court ruled that it has no authority to look behind this affidavit and question the determination.) Unlawful combatants are also denied counsel and contact with family members. In fact, hundreds of "unlawful combatants" are still being held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, without attorneys, without family contact, and under conditions said by some to be tantamount to physical and psychological torture. A federal court ruled in March that these persons had no access to the federal courts since they were on Cuban, not American, soil.
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