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The terrorist attack of 11 September makes me very much afraid. No, I do not fear a plane crashing into my home. If every person in my community were at home and then a terrorist destroyed the entire community, there would be fewer casualties than were first estimated for the World Trade Center — indeed too puny a target for terrorists. Suicide bombers do not scare me either. If Israelis can go about their lives with weekly examples of terrorism, then so can I. In any case, if I truly feared violence, why would I still live in southern California, in earthquake country? A magnitude 6.7 quake in downtown Los Angeles during working hours would likely kill tens of thousands and cause property damage far exceeding the damage to New York. An earthquake of that magnitude actually occurred within the city limits of Los Angeles in 1994 (fortunately, in the less densely developed northern part of the city).
Bioterrorism does not scare me either. Anthrax is not contagious; no anthrax epidemic will spread from person to person. Small pox is contagious, but one of my grandfathers had it in his youth and survived. Why should I fear the spread of disease when plague, which is very deadly and spreads quickly, is endemic among the squirrels and other rodents in the open spaces that are less than a half-mile north and east of my house?
Then, what scares me? The measures taken by the United States government in response to terrorism scare me far more than terrorists!
We now have a law that allows the FBI to intercept and read our E-mail messages without a search warrant issued by a judge. But that is not the only snooping done by the FBI. They will now listen in on conversations between lawyers and their clients, again without any judge overseeing who or when. None of this snooping would have stopped either the terrorist attacks of 11 September or Tim McVey.
Over 1,000 individuals were arrested. Many of them were held incognito, neither family nor lawyers knowing where they were. The FBI now admits that not one of those arrested in the round-up following 11 September had anything to do with terrorism. No, instead they were seized for minor offences that would normally be ignored or at most result in an order to appear without any arrest. (Yes, Zacarias Moussaoui has been indicted for conspiracy in the terrorist attack. But he was already in jail on 11 September, having been arrested on 17 August.) Many are now characterizing the mass arrests Moslems and Arabs as too similar to the round-up of Americans of Japanese descent at the start of World War II, motivated less by concerns for national security than by racism.
President Bush announced that terrorists will be tried in secret by military courts, where the judge, jury, prosecutor, and even defense lawyers take orders from Bush as their commander-in-chief. Heresay evidence — testimony from someone who says they heard someone else say something about the accused — will be allowed without confirmation from the person being quoted (a violation of the defendant's rights under the sixth amendment to the Constitution). Verdicts will be determined by less than a unanimous vote of the jury, even when the sentence might involve capital punishment. We will never know what violations of a defendant's rights occur during these trials because the press and public will be excluded. And even blatant rights violations will not be corrected because, under President Bush's decree, appeals to higher courts will not be allowed. On the other hand, Tim McVey was tried by a jury of disinterested citizens, who unanimously voted him guilty. Neither the jury nor the judge answered to the President. His trial was open to the public and to the press, and his constitutional rights were enforced. Appeals were filed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which denied them on their merits and not because of orders from the President. Even Slobodan Milosevic — who may have been involved in far more deaths than happened at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon combined — will have a public trial with civilian judges. (Spain currently refuses to extradite suspected terrorists to the U.S. because laws throughout Europe prohibit secret military trials of civilians.)
The building where Senator Tom Daschle received mail containing anthrax was shut down immediately and remained shut for months. A large sum of money was spent decontaminating the building. The post office where that mail was sorted remained in operation. How much was spent to clean that post office?
When our own President uses standards set by terrorists to formulate his policies, I am very afraid. Even if those policies reflect an improvement over terrorist practices, I am not relieved because anything is an improvement. Instead, our standards should be so different that there would be no basis for comparing with terrorists.
Individuals did indeed die of anthrax, apparently spread intentionally through the mail. The FBI still does not know the source. However, the U.S. succeeded in stopping an international agreement that would have required surprise inspections of facilities where anthrax spores could be produced. As I said in my Germ Warfare, business is indeed more important than the safety of our people.
The FBI would like to examine gun-purchase records to determine if any of the terrorists bought guns in the U.S. However, Attorney-General Ashcroft — so determined to invade our privacy by tapping our phones, reading our E-mail, and listening to conversations between attorneys and their clients — has declared the records off-limits in order to protect the privacy of those who buy guns. We now know Ashcroft's priorities.
In the meantime, some members of Congress are attempting to use the patriotic fervor resulting from the events of 11 September to push tired old causes that should be allowed to die.
There are other proposals to use the war against terrorism — both from the President's administration and from Congress — to push long-cherished anti-democratic measures that have absolutely no relevance to that war. And even proposals that do relate to terrorism too often would have failed to deter either bin Laden or McVey. For example, face-recognition and iris scans would not have stopped either cases of terrorism because neither McVey nor most of the terrorists had any prior police records.
Now, President Bush claims we need his anti-missile defense program because of the threat of terrorism. However, no missiles were used by McVey in Oklahoma City, against the World Trade Center, or by suicide bombers in Israel. Just the same, the President wants to sink billions of dollars — money we do not have thanks to his tax cuts — into defending our nation against a threat that does not really exist.
No, I do not support the terrorists. As my Terror! indicates, I support our military response to the attacks. And if we catch Osama bin Laden, I think he should indeed be tried as a war criminal, but in a civilian court just as was used for the Nazi criminals after World War II.
GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba (Reuters) — Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on Sunday the al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners being held at Camp X-Ray, Cuba, would not be given the status of prisoners of war. "They are not POWs, they will not be determined to be POWs," Rumsfeld told journalists on the plane on which he was traveling to visit the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay.
If they are not POWs — and thus protected by the Geneva Convention — what is their status? They are clearly not criminals being charged with violating the laws of the United States because their treatment does not reflect the protections of our Constitution.
Not only am I afraid that our government might indeed start rounding up others — even our own residents — without following any legal process. I am also afraid that we might be setting a precedent that other governments will follow when dealing with U.S. citizens. And where is the "chance in court" promised by our President to those captured? What indeed is their status?
31 March 2003
POW: a person who surrenders to (or is taken by) the enemy in time of war [syn: prisoner of war]
The purpose [of Camp Delta at Guantanamo Bay, which replaced Camp X-Ray] is to detain dangerous enemy combatants captured while fighting against our forces and remove them from the battlefield. … Camp Delta is a place where we hold enemy combatants …
Assistant Secretary of Defense Victoria Clarke,
from a "Letter to the Editor" in the Los Angeles Times
Well, are they or are they not POWs? Or has President Bush decreed a new definition of prisoner of war.
19 May 2003
Last updated 16 NOvember 2003
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