Monday, November 24, 2003


New FBI scrutiny of anti-war activities in the US is the subject of a New York Times article by Eric Lichtblau. And Juan Cole, a University of Michigan History Professor, raises concerns on his weblog about government intrusion and potential limits to civil rights in the US and UK. Professor Cole's article also deals with recent comments by US General Tommy Franks, where the career soldier describes a scenario in which the US Constitution might be suspended, placing America under military rule.

Lichtblau quotes Anthony Romero, executive director of the ACLU, "The FBI is dangerously targeting Americans who are engaged in nothing more than lawful protest and dissent"..."The line between terrorism and legitimate civil disobedience is blurred, and I have serious concern about whether we're going back to the days of Hoover."

Lichtblau later adds that "Critics of the Bush Administration's Iraq policy, for instance, have sued the government to learn how their names ended up on a "no fly" list used to stop suspected terrorists from boarding planes. Civil rights advocates have accused federal and local authorities in Denver and Fresno, [California], of spying on antiwar demonstrators or infiltrating planning meetings."

The reporter reminds us of the J. Edgar Hoover controversies of the 60s and 70s, "which included efforts by the FBI to harass and discredit Hoover's political enemies under a program known as Cointelpro"...These abuses..."led to tight restrictions on FBI investigations of political activities."

"These restrictions were relaxed significantly last year, when Attorney General John Ashcroft issued guidelines giving agents authority to attend public rallies, mosques and any event open to the public"..."What the FBI regards as potential terrorism," Mr Romero of the ACLU said, "strikes me as civil disobedience."

"The Republic and the Constitution are what America is about," writes Professor Cole. And he holds that General Tommy Frank's recent comments are scandalous. "Franks has speculated that in the wake of a major WMD attack, the US will scrap its constitution and adopt a military government." Professor Cole says that he "can't imagine a more fascist, irresponsible thing for [Franks] to say. George Washington, who faced ...proportionally much more devastating attacks and loss of life after 1776 (the population was 4 million then) never threw in the towel on democracy like that."

Journalist David Neiwert is in basic agreement with Cole and quotes the General,... "Franks says...that if terrorists obtain and use weapons of mass destruction..."the Western world, the free world, loses what it cherishes most, and that is freedom and liberty we've seen for a couple of hundred years in this grand experiment we call democracy."

The General elaborates:

"It means the potential of a weapon of mass destruction and a terrorist, massive, casualty-producing event somewhere in the Western world--it may be in the United States of America--that causes our population to question our own Constitution and to begin to militarize our country in order to avoid a repeat of another mass, casualty-producing event. Which in fact, then begins to unravel the fabric of our Constitution. Two steps, very, very important."

Professor Cole is horrified by the implication of General Frank's comment, and goes on to express concern for an analogous threat posed by legislation pending in the UK. "What is really alarming is that the British, who lack a Bill of Rights and have all along suffered from Government withdrawal of civil liberties at will (Thatcher sent SWAT teams to the offices of the Guardian once) are already moving in a fascist direction. The only hope of the British public for retention of what civil liberties it has is that the human rights laws of the European Union might impede the nation toward donning jackboots."

Political Editor, Andy McSmith, of the UK's Independent uses the Franks scenario to illustrate the heightening of fears around these civil rights issues. His article examines the Civil Contingencies Bill and its "sweeping measures"..."giving the Government power to over-ride civil liberties in times of crisis, and evacuate threatened areas, retrict people's movements and confiscate property."

"Some of the proposals in the draft version of the Bill, drawn up last summer, have alarmed civil rights activists, notably a clause that gives the Government the power to suspend parts or all of the Human Rights Act without a vote by MPs. Once an emergency has been proclaimed by the Queen, the Government can order the destruction of property, order people to evacuate an area or ban them from travelling, and "prohibit assemblies of specified kinds" and "other specified activities"...

"Civil liberties groups have been alarmed by the Cabinet Offices' sweeping definition of an "emergency" and the powers it confers."

image via indymedia uk


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