TAMING THE BOOMERANG
You can usually get to the bottom of any issue in about 2-1/2 minutes simply by asking the right questions. If it takes any longer than that you're probably being misled. The other night found another debate on a cable channel about whether anti-terrorist laws were protecting us or depriving us of our civil rights.
The customary group of clowns from the left and the right participated and as usual, none of the participants could seem to get to the core issues, and kept quibbling over peripheral topics like battling furious librarians, who don't want to snoop on their patrons. If they think this is a core issue, we're really in trouble. My BS-alarm sensors were beeping loudly into the night as I don't have much tolerance for nonsense.
The Boomerang Syndrome
Since 9/11, the debate of endangered civil rights has been presented as President Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft, good conservative Christians to tell the tale, declare solemnly that liberty is in danger from terrorism and we must defend our freedoms by giving up our freedoms -- work that one out if you can. Anyone who opposes this sophistry is branded unpatriotic or aiding and abetting the enemy.
On the other side are the usual collection of hysterical liberals, upset that George Bush "stole the election in Florida," who have been opposed to imperialism (Marxist term) and war since Vietnam days, and who are programmed to attack anything on the right just so Hillary has a fighting chance in [your election year here]. This so-called unpatriotic crowd has forgotten that just a few years back after the bombing in Oklahoma City President Clinton said it was unpatriotic for conservatives to criticize their government. He was busy demonizing conservatives and home schoolers for the "atmosphere of hate" responsible for the crime itself even though there was no connection.
In the debates over civil rights, hardball issues about the War on Freedom...excuse me, terror...raised by leftists, rightists and libertarians remain unanswered.
The first core matter can be summed up in the lesson Democrats are learning, called the boomerang syndrome: what goes around comes around. Laws passed for one reason can easily be ported for use in all manner of other crimes, making criminals out of ordinary citizens, creating crimes where there were none or aggravating the nature of what would be lesser crimes. This happens despite all those "assurances" we receive from war-on-terror proponents. Be assured that government assurances are always assuredly forgotten. History is on my side on this one.
The Endless Cycle of Loss
For the last 20 years we have witnessed a Buddhist-like cycle of crime, legislation, loss of rights, followed by more crime.
(1) A crime situation comes into existence.
(2) In order to deal with this crime situation the Justice Department or some arm of government claims expanded powers are required to deal with the situation in order to prevent more crime in the future.
(3) These laws invariably stomp on protections guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights but citizens are promised they will be safer and the crime will be prevented and that the laws will only be used against "bad guys" - you know, drug traffickers, terrorists, and [bad guy label here].
(4) Invariably the new laws do not prevent crimes and more are committed, almost always due to government ineptitude in using the surveillance powers and the laws it already has. In cases of malfeasance or incompetence on the part of agents representing government, no one is ever punished.
(5) There is then a stampede on the part of congressmen ("moo") to pass more draconian laws, most of which they don't read or understand, all of which trample ("moo") on the rights of US citizens in the name of making them safer, which they don't.
(6) The cycle then repeats itself once more but with one slight twist: the laws do not prevent more crime or terrorism and use of the laws rapidly broadens out, being applied to persons and crimes for which they were never originally intended, frequently sweeping up hapless citizens and making criminals where no criminals would have been before.
Precedent examples are legion of which the following is just one:
In the 1980s, the War on Drugs escalated. RICO statutes were enacted, which allowed the easy civil forfeiture of property among other things. The public was assured these laws would only be applied against drug kingpins. However before long the allure of easy property seizure with its corresponding payoff to law enforcement became too much temptation and suddenly there were hundreds of statues allowing property seizure, most of which had nothing to do with drugs. Then RICO statutes were applied against abortion clinic protesters and others never targeted when the laws were originally passed.
After the bombing of the Murrah Office Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, there was a big push ("moo") to pass new anti-terrorist laws. But those laws didn't prevent 9/11. In reality, the issue wasn't more laws, but incompetence at enforcing the laws already extant with intelligence information already in hand.
For example, "Federal officials in both the intelligence and law enforcement community were repeatedly warned that terrorist attacks in the United States were likely. The respected Israeli journalist Ze'ev Schiff reported that when the former head of Israel's Shin Bet security service warned Attorney General Janet Reno, FBI Director Louis Freeh, and Central Intelligence Agency Director George Tenet that terrorist cells were being set up on US soil 'they looked at him forgivingly and claimed that he was exaggerating.'"
There was sufficient intelligence for the FBI to know that something was afoot in the US long before 9/11. Indeed FBI agent John O'Neil, who was ironically killed in the collapse of the World Trade Center, had become an expert on Islamic terrorist cells and was trying to warn the upper echelons of his organization that something desperately required their attention. But O'Neil was considered too "uppity" by his superiors in Washington, who didn't want to hear about it. So while incompetence reigns, what is the answer to fighting terrorism? More destruction of constitutional protections, of course.
What Goes Around - Whack!
The primary issue of the War on Terror is that any statue, law, surveillance or regulation, can and will be used against ordinary citizens in the future just by shifting a few definitions here and there! To be more concise: Have slippery slope, will slip. Once a precedent for abusing civil rights is set in place and supported by the courts, the abuse can be expanded by simply changing the definition of those conditions required to legally trigger the legal action.
What goes around comes around. Poor laws written today will inexorably be broadened to ensnare all sorts of people who were never originally intended as targets. By this time in our nation's history, we're all criminals because we inadvertently break thousands of laws and regulations of which we are unaware. Let's face it, even God has a hard time keeping up with the changes, but, unlike God, we have to suffer the consequences.
Justice requires a level playing field or it becomes corrupt. Beware the definition of a "terrorist," which easily broadens to include almost anyone government wants to include in that category. Beware when habeas corpus is suspended simply by definition. Beware blurry ill-defined legal terms and definitions! Beware when property is confiscated merely upon accusation. Beware of being able to imprison people secretly for an indefinite period without trial, especially by calling it witness protection or military justice. Beware, beware, beware! Just a slip of the definitions and anyone can be made to fit. A terrorist or enemy combatant loses a lot of rights without even a trial just by being accused of being one and there is little appeal. Why? Because Johnny A. and Georgie B. say so, catch them if you can.
As powers granted under the War on Freedom, there will come a day in our lifetime when the name of John Ashcroft will be cursed for the precedents set in place today, as "they" are applied where "they" were never intended and where we were assured "they" would never go. How do I know that? Because "they" have done it before and "they" will do it again.
1 BS: Abbrev. For "bull snort." Much hot air and a lot of noise but nothing else.
2 Lynch, Tim. "Breaking the vicious Cycle, Preserving our Liberties while Fighting Terrorism," June 26, 2002, Cato Institute Policy Analysis No. 443.
© 2003 John Loeffler - All Rights Reserved
John Loeffler is host of the weekly syndicated talk show Steel on Steel, which can be heard at www.steelonsteel.com. Online subscriptions to the show or by tape are available. John also produces and co-hosts The Financial Sense Newshour with Jim Puplava at www.financialsense.com. He can be reached at (800) 829-5646 or (208)765-8337. These articles are published at www.newswithviews.com.
"Justice requires a level playing field or it becomes corrupt. Beware the definition of a "terrorist," which easily broadens to include almost anyone government wants to include in that category. Beware when habeas corpus is suspended simply by definition."