AUSTIN, Texas "We were initially told in the early '90s,
when they began to apply the military law heavily, that it would
be used only against drug dealers and terrorists." Hisham Kassem,
head of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, after Saad Eddin Ibrahim,
an Egyptian-American sociology professor, was sentenced to seven years in prison
for "tarnishing the image of Egypt." From an interview on NPR.
That's worth chewing on for a while.
"If there's another terrorist attack, and if it's from a certain
ethnic community ... that terrorists are from, you can forget about
civil rights in this country. I think we will have a return to Korematsu
(internment camps)." Peter N. Kirsanow, U.S. Civil Rights Commissioner,
July 22 in Detroit. After his remarks were criticized, Kirsanow said he was warning
against camps, not advocating them, but he also told the Detroit Free Press, "Not
too many people will be crying in their beer if there are more detentions,
more stops, more profiling."
With a civil rights commissioner like this guy on the job, we haven't got a
thing to worry about.
Civil libertarians have a slight tendency to look as though we've just been
fired out of a cannon. We are forever hearing the sounds of jackbooted Fascism
approaching. Nearly every time someone complains about a dirty movie theater or
a KKK rally, we can be counted upon to leap up and announce that the First Amendment
is in dire peril. To be a good civil libertarian is to spend one's life in a fairly
constant state of alarm, which leaves the group somewhat frazzled.
On top of that, we constantly have to defend the most disgusting people
on the grounds that disgusting people have rights, too. And as the late
John Henry Faulk used to say, "That will make you about as popular as a whore
tryin' to get into the SMU School of Theology." It's a little-known fact that
defending civil liberties can also be a whale of a lot of fun, requiring only
beer, imagination and a mild disrespect for authority to become a genuinely entertaining
and even riotously funny pastime. One is not required to like the disgusting specimens
whose rights are being violated. In fact, one is, thanks to the First Amendment,
perfectly free to denounce them with splendid invective.
But it is time to take note that we are getting ourselves into a truly silly
fight. Now is not the time to dismiss concerns over civil liberties as alarmist.
"O pshaw," is not a helpful response to violations of the Constitution. Worse
than the dismissive pooh-poohing of concern is the implication that those who
speak up on behalf of those caught up in the post-Sept. 11 sweep who have still
not been charged with anything are themselves somehow unpatriotic.
Boy, is that standing the world on its head. Seems to me every sentient patriot
should be concerned.
The notion that a "liberal federal judge" did something wrong by ordering the
government to reveal the names of those it is holding is nonsense. Of course the
government must account for those it has in custody. Even if one had been inclined
after Sept. 11 to give the government a few weeks to separate the sheep from the
goats after its round-up, you cannot hold someone in jail for a year without showing
he or she did something wrong. Fish or cut bait.
Of the 1,200 detained, 752 were charged with immigration violations and are
now stuck in the notorious black hole of the Immigration and Naturalization Service's
clumsy system. Accounts vary as to how many are still being held. But by no possible
stretch of the Constitution can the government's action be justified. Secret arrests
are the stuff of old novels like "The Count of Monte Cristo." Not since pre-revolutionary
France has it been legal to imprison someone without explaining by whom and of
what they are accused.
Judge Gladys Kessler made an exception where the government can show that a
material witness in a terrorism investigation is involved and ruled that the government
need not provide details of the arrests. But as she noted, the government did
not claim or even hint that any of the detainees has connections to terrorism.
Kessler seems to have considerably more respect for the Constitution than Attorney
Some of the super-patriots running around need to get a grip. We can't make
ourselves safer by making ourselves less free.
Some comment is required on Rep. Bob Barr's unfortunate gun accident. Barr,
a member of the board of the National Rifle Association, plugged a glass door
when somebody handed him a loaded antique .38 at a campaign fund-raiser. Further
evidence that there is a God.
Copyright 2002, The Daily Camera