"We think it is important to tell the truth," White House spokesman John Bolton said recently on the topic of North Korea. But the Bush administration has a little trouble telling the truth, a small problem that could have devastating consequences for democracy and freedom in this country.
First, there are those 16 little words that President Bush has been forced to eat. Iraq's alleged plot to purchase African yellowcake for a nuclear weapons program is a falsehood based on forged documents. Yet the White House included the allegation in a presidential speech despite fully knowing the weakness of the charge.
Remember the canisters of poison gas and anthrax that were supposed to be lying around the Iraq desert near Tikrit? None to be found.
There was also a short news flurry about Iraq's alleged mobile biowarfare labs. They were actually used to inflate weather balloons, just as the Iraqis claimed when the "labs" were discovered.
How about those remote-controlled aircraft set to bomb surrounding nations, Israel and even the East Coast of the United States? They were held together with duct tape and chicken wire and are about as precision-guide as a kite.
That is just a small selection of the inaccuracies, shaded truths and outright lies about Iraq the Bush administration has foisted on the American public. The administration's "weapons of mass destruction" talk is merely a front for its own "weapons of mass deception."
Such a state of affairs exists because there are still many Americans who believe that Iraq had something to do with Sept. 11. That carefully stage- managed propaganda has enabled President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Attorney General John Ashcroft to push for Patriot Act II and defend Patriot Act I as necessary in protecting Americans.
Step back and think of the future. When the next major attack on U.S. soil occurs, the Bush administration will be asking for yet another Patriot Act enhancement to "protect" the American population. Let's not give them another blank check.
Why? The Patriot Act was supposed to make the United States safer; instead it has sown terror and fear in immigrant communities, making immigrants -- particularly those of Middle Eastern origin -- less likely to come forward with any information. So far, 154 communities in 28 states have passed resolutions opposing the Patriot Act, and that includes three statewide resolutions in Vermont, Hawaii and Alaska.
Two scathing internal Justice Department reviews have revealed abuses of power, beatings and harassment of those arrested under the Patriot Act's authority. The full extent of the abuse is unclear, for detainees are held unconstitutionally incommunicado without access to lawyers.
The final government report on Sept. 11 concluded that a failure to prevent the attacks had more to do with institutional inertia, turf wars and lack of communication between the CIA and FBI -- not a lack of resources. The intelligence services had more than enough tools for the job, but the Bush administration wanted more. Thus, the Patriot Act sprung from nowhere, as if it had been kept hidden in a bottom drawer ready to be dropped on a terrified population given the right opportunity.
Most members of Congress simply did not read this sweeping abrogation of the Constitution the first time round, which explains why they are feeling a little more skeptical with Patriot Act II. The original Patriot Act enables the Bush administration to subpoena library records, search homes without informing residents, monitor telephone and Internet traffic without notification and detain foreigners indefinitely. It even created a new bogeyman, the domestic terrorist: Anyone who carries out an act that "appears to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population [or] to influence the policy of government by intimidation or coercion." The term is so broadly defined that peaceful protest and civil disobedience could be labeled as terrorism.
Patriot Act II would expand domestic intelligence gathering even more, further erode the role of the courts in governmental oversight, allow secret arrests, create a DNA databank of those suspected of associating with "terrorists" and even yank the citizenship away from Americans who support groups the government would rather not deal with. It sounds like something out of Germany, circa 1938.
No wonder democracies in Europe and around the world are looking on in horror. We don't need a new Patriot Act. We need a new foreign policy based on cooperation and respect, not bludgeoning and fear. We do not need a domestic policy that makes a mockery of America's tradition as a democracy.
Kevin Danaher is a founding director of Global Exchange an international human rights group based in San Francisco. Scott Lynch is the communications director of Peace Action, a U.S.-based group working for peace and disarmament for 40 years.
©2003 San Francisco Chronicle