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Patriot Act Not the Most Dangerous Game in Town

Harvey Silverglate and Carl Takai, writing for the Boston Phoenix, say:

While we’re all fretting over the Patriot Act, John Ashcroft’s Justice Department is after much bigger game

First, let's take a look at the Patriot Act:

Personally shepherded through Congress by Attorney General John Ashcroft, it authorizes the kinds of things that send shivers down civil libertarians’ spines: invasions of personal privacy, restrictions on financial transactions, racial and ethnic profiling, blurring the line between foreign intelligence and domestic law enforcement, and punitive registration requirements for immigrants and visitors. And that’s just a partial list.

Silverglate says our focus on the Patriot Act has distracted us from Bush's parallel move--taking away our "threshold rights" --

fair elections, open and publicly accountable government, judicial review of executive action, the right of the accused to a public jury trial, separation of powers among the three branches of government, and the rights to free expression and free association —

Silverglate argues that the Patriot Act provisions can be repealed or sunsetted. Threshold rights are more permanent.

Threshold rights enable civil society to know what government is doing and to rein in abuses. Think of it this way: temporary restrictions on some forms of privacy enable the government to know what you are doing, which is troubling enough. Threshold rights enable you to know what the government is doing, and that’s why they form the core of democratic society. The degree to which a society protects threshold rights speaks to whether it is free and open, and whether self-correction can occur without violence. If the press is free, the electorate has open elections, and the courts are performing their sworn duty, even a president who tries to assume the powers of an emperor can be dealt with.

Attacks on threshold rights supposedly justified by the "war on terrorism" are particularly menacing because this war has no foreseeable end, and the dangers are indisputably real. Nor will the war be contained geographically; as Ashcroft warned the House Judiciary Committee in June 2003, he now considers the streets of the nation to be "a war zone." On Ashcroft’s domestic battlefield, threshold liberties are indeed under grave attack, and none with more alarming success, at least thus far, than the right to judicial oversight of the executive branch, specifically the writ of habeas corpus — the oldest and most fundamental right of free citizens in the Anglo-American legal tradition.

Here's a scary thought:

Once threshold rights are stripped away, the only thing that stands between any of us and arbitrary imprisonment is the good will of the president, the attorney general, and the secretary of defense.

We recommend you read the whole article. [link via cursor]

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