A year ago, Congress hastily passed the USA Patriot Act and permanently altered the landscape of civil liberties in the United States. Although supporters argued that it would deter and obstruct future terrorist assaults on Americans, critics of the bill, including legal scholars, historians, immigrant rights advocates, civil libertarians and city councils throughout the nation, have questioned its effectiveness and its constitutionality.
Nothing in the Patriot Act would have thwarted the Sept. 11 attacks; instead, it represents a depressing capitulation to those who value short-term security over more valuable and enduring freedoms, and it indicates the degree to which our political leaders (within and outside of the Bush administration) have decided to isolate themselves from traditions of civil liberties and human rights - not just at home, but throughout the world.
Among other things, the act has enabled law enforcement agencies to conduct warrantless searches and carry out wiretaps without demonstrating that an actual crime has been (or is likely to be) committed. It permits "dragnet" investigations of bank, hospital, library and educational records without adhering to "probable cause" restrictions. It authorizes the detention and deportation of non-citizens for espousing "terrorist" views (however vaguely those might be defined) or "associating" with terrorist organizations (whether or not the individual was aware of the association). It eliminates judicial oversight of many law enforcement and intelligence activities and it raises the likelihood that political activists on the left as well as the right will be monitored and harassed for reasons that have little to do with the global "war on terror."
Broadly speaking, however, the USA Patriot Act is merely one part of a troubling pattern of disdain exhibited U.S. leaders toward traditions of domestic and international law. As the Bush administration and Congress rush the nation toward war in Iraq (and quite likely elsewhere in coming years), ordinary citizens should remain vigilant - not simply by opposing terrorism carried out by stateless entities like Al-Qaeda, but by opposing state-sponsored injustices carried out in our names and under the false banner of "defending our freedom." The unilateralism so favored by the Bush administration, and its apparent commitments to "pre-emptive strikes" are deeply entwined with the pre-emption of civil liberties within the United States. Ordinary Iraqis are not likely to be helped by an administration that can envision nothing more specific for their future than violent "regime change" in Baghdad; and ordinary Americans are not likely to be protected from future acts of terrorism by laws that threaten their own civil liberties.
For these reasons among others, citizens of Juneau who are concerned about the possibility of war abroad and the evaporation of civil liberties at home will meet at 11 a.m. Saturday for a peaceful march beginning at St. Paul Church, one block north of Loop Road and Egan.
David Noon of Juneau is an assistant professor of U.S. history at the University of Alaska-Southeast.