Legal And Illegal Measures
Since September 11, 2001, the civil rights of citizens and non-citizens in the United States have been resting on more than shaky ground, due to a number of measures, both legal and illegal, instituted by the government. These have been justified as acts which will protect Americans, even if they entail some breach of basic and/or civil rights. Here is a brief list of some of these.
1. The US government has secretly arrested about 1,200 non-US citizens in connection with the investigation into the 9/11 terror attacks, although the government has not disclosed the exact number. Most of them are from the Middle East, South Asia, and North Africa. A number of these people were arrested during random meetings with law enforcement officials or the suspicions of neighbors based on their being Muslim, Arab or South Asian, according to an August 2002 Human Rights Watch report.
2. Some of these detainees have been held for prolonged periods without charges and have not been allowed access to legal counsel.
3. These people have also been subjected to forced interrogations.
4. The US government has overridden judicial orders to release these detainees on bond during immigration proceedings.
5. A minimum of 752 men, were jailed on immigration charges. Meanwhile, the government continued to investigate them, and kept them in detention until it decided they had no links to or knowledge of terrorism.These were called "special interest" cases. In February 2002, the US Justice Department admitted that most of the people jailed in connection with the investigation into the 9/11 terror attacks and who were also charged with immigration violations (called "special interest" cases) were not connected to terrorism. These people were eventually deported for violating their visas.
6. In a number of cases, the government has jailed detainees for months under restrictive conditions, including solitary confinement. Some detainees have been physically and verbally abused because of their religion or national origin.
7. In some cases, the Department of Justice ignored rules to keep non-citizens in the custody of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), just in case it might be discovered they were involved in terrorism. This act is considered unlawful "preventive detention.
8. The Department of Justice has refused to release the names of immigration detainees held in connection with the 9/11 investigation, thus denying the public the right to know what its government is doing, which is a basic free spech right.
9. Federal agencies have withheld public domain information. For example, the Government Printing Office has ordered over 1,000 libraries that keep federal government documents to destroy records that federal agencies say could be "sensitive." In addition, at least 15 government agencies have removed information from the Internet.
10. In May 2002, US citizen Jose Padilla was arrested without charge in Chicago and not allowed access to an attorney. He has been held in a military base in South Carolina. President Bush designated the Muslim man, who goes by the name Abdullah al-Muhajir, an "enemy combatant" . He has been accused by US officials of meeting with leaders of Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan to plan attacks in the United States. According to US constitutional law, citizens have the right to be formally charged for a crime and are allowed access to legal counsel.
11. The United States continues to violate the Geneva Conventions, especially with regards to Taliban prisoners. It is refusing to treat them as prisoners of war. Instead of properly determining the legal status of detainees in accordance with the Geneva Conventions and bringing to justice those responsible for the 9/11 terrorism, the Bush Administration has considered creating special military tribunals which are legally questionable. It has also contradicted the Convention by choosing to hold the detainees indefinitely.
12. Citizens have been encouraged to spy on each other in an initiative called Operation TIPS. (Terrorist Information and Prevention System). At first, US Attorney General John Ashcroft suggested recruiting letter carriers, utility workers, cable installers and others whose jobs allow them access to people's homes to report "suspicious" activity. But after public protest, the Bush Administration has announced a milder version not including postal and utility workers, but those who work in the transportation, trucking, shipping, maritime, and mass transit industries.
13. The introduction of National ID Cards has been suggested to more accurately track the identity of airline passengers while stopping terrorists from entering the US. Critics argue that such a move violates privacy and could encourage even more profiling and discrimation against immigrantsand foreigners in the US.
14. Passed the USA Patriot Act, which stands for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act. Some of this Act's salient features include the following:
- The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) has the authority to detain immigrants suspected of terrorism for long, and in some cases, indefinite periods of time.
- Government investigators can now get court orders to monitor online communications much more easily, without strong judicial protection.
- Investigators can also get court orders that force booksellers or librarians to give private information about their customers and patrons. For instance, a librarian can be forced to report what books a member has borrowed. Also, if the library has computers, investigators can demand to know what websites he or she has visited. The law also forbids booksellers and librarians to make public even the fact that they have received such orders.
- Communication between attorneys and their clients can be monitored without a warrant or judicial review in some conditions in cases that involve terrorism.
- The use of military tribunals to judge terrorist suspects. Under the rules governing military tribunals, certain information deemed to implicate national security may be kept secret even from defendants. This jeopardizes their ability to mount an effective defense.
- Green card holders (lawful aliens) who associate with members of what are deemed by the US government "terrorist" organizations will be deported.
- Court supervision of federal telephone and Internet surveillance by law enforcement authorities has been minimized to allow for less privacy.
- The government's ability to conduct secret searches has been expanded, and it can now request these searches in every criminal case. A person is normally notified when law enforcement conducts a search. In some cases involving searches for electronic information, law enforcement authorities can get court permission to delay notification of a search.
- The US Attorney General and the Secretary of State can now designate domestic groups as terrorist organizations and deport any non-citizen who belongs to them.
- The FBI can easily access sensitive business records about individuals without having to show evidence of a crime.
- Law enforcement and intelligence agencies can easily gain secret access to individual credit reports. This law provides for no judicial review and law enforcementofficials do not need to give the person whose records are being reviewed any notice.
- It is much easier to access student records. Previously, this required a subpoena issued by a judge who had determined investigators had evidence of "probable cause" of wrongdoing by the student. Now a subpoena can be issued if a judge thinks the records might have information simply "pertinent" to an investigation. According to the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (ACCRAO), at least 200 colleges and universities have replied to such requests by federal officials since Sept. 11. These have focused on foreign students, but the school records of some US citizens enrolled in flight schools were also tapped.
15. The government has requested that 5,000 men from Middle Eastern nations voluntarily submit to FBI interviews in a search for more information in connection with the war on terrorism. In November, US Attorne General John Ashcroft said immigrants might get help with visas if they pass along information about anti-US plots.
Photo Attribution: Val Kerry - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Guantanamo_and_article_10.jpg