Some Lessons in Freedom and Rights

There is a really good column today in the Des Moines Register by Rekha Basu entitled Americans forget some lessons in freedoms, rights.

Here is some of it, but we think you should read the whole thing.

"Security - the feeling that nothing could touch us - is one assumption we've had to unlearn since last Sept. 11.

But from the Bush administration's war on terrorism we're also learning that the rights and freedoms we took for granted in America - due process, equal treatment, free speech, probable cause - were not absolute.

The response to Sept. 11 has reinforced the country's racial and ethnic fault lines, as immigrants came under new scrutiny, sometimes just because of their different names and appearances.

The attacks showed how vulnerable our buildings and economy were to terrorist attacks. Now the response to those attacks is showing how vulnerable our democracy is when we allow people to be held without charges, homes to be searched without probable cause, neighbors to be turned into informants.

From Columbine to Oklahoma City, this country has known different kinds of terrorism but didn't respond by casting suspicion on entire demographic groups.

Because it didn't affect them, most Americans have stayed silent about infringements on the rights of ethnic minorities. But the changes spilled over into areas of everyone's lives. The USA Patriot Act, passed by Congress and signed in October, gave 40 federal agencies sweeping powers to eavesdrop on phone conversations, intercept e-mail, and get access to medical, financial and even library records. Warrants to be used on Americans are approved in secret by judges in a court created to target foreign powers. Probable cause that a crime was committed is no longer necessary. The FBI can also monitor political and religious meetings. The Terrorism Information and Prevention System would have citizens report suspicions about each other, and businesses and lawyers could be required to report any "'suspicious activity" involving clients."

Basu references other laws passed that civil libertarians and immigrant-rights groups attribute to Sept. 11. "After previous unsuccessful attempts, official English was signed into law. And a new state driver's license was instituted for noncitizens, stamped "Nonrenewable - documentation required."

She argues that the press has been "cowed into submission by government secrecy and self-censorship."

Are we going to get to the point where there's no turning back? Where our liberties and rights are gone forever?

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