The one year anniversary of the terror attack on the World Trade Center is fast approaching. Documentaries and interviews with the families of the victims are understandably being prepared for public consumption, and such reflection should also focus on the State of our Union.
For 12 months, both major political parties have sat by and watched the Executive Branch abuse its power. The Democrat Party, which crows about being an advocate of minority rights, has generally acquiesced to the idea of racial profiling. The Republican Party, which is an advocate of individual freedoms has generally spearheaded the efforts to strip American citizens of their liberties. To question or be critical of any tactic in our war on terror is to open one’s self to accusations of treason or betrayal of the nation we love, or so the popular belief goes.
Well, thank God for our Constitution. The U.S. Constitution divides the powers of the government among three branches: the legislative, the executive, and the judicial. In the Congress, power is also divided between the House and the Senate. This system of “checks and balances” prevents any one segment from becoming too powerful.
Last week, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ruled that it may test the limits of the government’s power to spy on terror suspects in the United States. Further, it took issue with the government’s assertion that national security concerns justify the lessening of previously recognized civil liberties or privacy rights. The special espionage panel was created nearly 25 years ago as a check on the government’s power to conduct domestic spying.
While there have been a few recent court rulings, which have dulled the blades of Bush’s strategies in the fight against terror, last week’s ruling was a true reminder that the Executive branch cannot “go it alone.” And it’s true that most of us don’t mind some reduction in liberties for increased security, but detaining people on the basis of religion or ethnicity is about as un-American as one can get. Thousands of men are languishing in cells and their families have no idea where they are.
Our judicial system was also centered around the mantra of “innocent until proven guilty” and for the accused to see the evidence that is being used against him or her so they can defend one’s self. Even Timothy McVeigh, the mastermind of the largest act of domestic terrorism in our nation’s history, was afforded this “luxury.”
Interestingly, nearly 80% of Arab-American and Muslim registered voters selected George W. Bush for President in 2000 because he promised to help rid our system of the concept of “secret evidence.” For those of us who worked on his campaign, the realities have been profoundly troubling.
The war on terror is an honorable war but there’s no clear vision or strategy in accomplishing this. Further, e-mails from friends in Western Europe illustrate an anger about American “arrogance.” We pull out of international treaties like the Kyoto Protocol and withdraw our support of the International Criminal Court — upsetting our allies when it suits us, yet we are quick to employ our allies in our war on terror. The reality is that the foreign media has mocked our simplistic “axis of evil,” and people are unsupportive of a US strike on Iraq é which will bring more regional instability than anyone can imagine.
There, I said it. The First Amendment allows me to have my own opinions and vocalize them, a concept that seems to have gone out the window in the last 12 months.
When the popular show “Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher” was in its final week, Maher made a statement that really hit the nail on the head. He said that those of us who criticize our government love it more than those who just agree with everything it does.
And so, most politicians have failed us. As we continue the one-branch “discussion” on what strategies will win this “war on terror,” it is time for society to utilize the rights set forth in our Constitution. From “checks and balances” to free speech, we ALL have a role to play in this important debate.
Sherri Muzher, who holds a Jurist Doctor in International and Comparative Law, is a Palestinian-American activist and free lance journalist.