When Fear Threatens Freedom

Throughout American history, whenever the United States has felt threatened, our response has been repression. In hindsight we come to realize that the nation was not made any safer from the loss of civil liberties. This is a crucial lesson to be remembered as the country deals with the terrible tragedy of Monday’s bombings in Boston. The impulse to take away constitutional rights to gain security must be resisted because, in reality, complying with the Constitution is not an impediment to safety.

If history repeats itself, there are likely to be calls to make it easier for police to search people and their possessions without warrants or probable cause or even reasonable suspicion. Once more, there will be proposals to allow the authorities to detain individuals, even indefinitely, on suspicion of their supporting terrorism.  There are sure to be calls to allow law enforcement to more easily intercept electronic communications, even of those conducted entirely within the United States.

The pattern of responding to threats by curtailing rights began early in American history. In 1798, when the future of the country was in doubt, Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Act, which made it a crime to falsely criticize the government or government officials—men were sent to prison for speaking ill of certain individuals and decisions. Thomas Jefferson ran for president in 1800 on a platform that stressed the need to repeal the Alien and Sedition Act, and when elected, he pardoned those who had been convicted. A century and a half later, the Supreme Court decided that the ”court of history” had declared the act unconstitutional

During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus, even though the president has no authority to do so under the Constitution. Habeas corpus allows federal courts to give relief to those who are held in violation of the Constitution and laws of the United States.  Hundreds of people were imprisoned, with no recourse, just for their speech criticizing the war.

During World War I, Congress passed two laws, in 1917 and 1918, which among other things, made it a crime to speak out against the draft. The Supreme Court upheld the conviction and a ten-year sentence for a man who did no more than circulate a leaflet that argued that conscription was involuntary servitude in violation of the Thirteenth Amendment. Socialist leader Eugene Debs was imprisoned for telling an audience that they were good for more than "cannon fodder."

In World War II, 110,000 Japanese-Americans were uprooted from their homes and placed in what President Franklin Roosevelt called "concentration camps." Race alone determined who would be free and who would be placed behind barbed wire. This did nothing to make the nation safer; not one Japanese-American was indicted or convicted of a crime against national security.

The McCarthy era was the age of suspicion; the mere suspicion of communist sympathies was enough for people to lose their jobs and sometimes their freedom. In the midst of this era, the Supreme Court held that people could be imprisoned for "conspiracy to advocate the overthrow of the government" without any need for evidence that their speech was likely to have any effect.

On April 19, 1995, a bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City took 168 lives. Congress responded with the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, which substantially increased law enforcement power to gather information about individuals without warrants and which imposed unprecedented restrictions on the ability of federal courts to grant habeas corpus, even to those who are innocent.

Most recently, the events of September 11, 2001, led to a series of restrictions on civil liberties, none of which likely have done anything to make the country safer. The Bush administration claimed the authority to indefinitely detain individuals, even American citizens apprehended in the United States, without any due process. Jose Padilla, an American citizen arrested in Chicago, was held as an enemy combatant and the Bush administration said that it could imprison him without judicial review. A total of 779 individuals who are not American citizens have been imprisoned in Guantanamo and 166 are still there, some now for over 11 years, even though virtually none have been tried or had any meaningful form of due process. Those at Guantanamo and those held at rendition camps were subjected to torture, which for the first time in American history was systematically implemented by the government.

The tragedy of September 11 led to the quick passage of the Patriot Act, which greatly expanded law enforcement’s power to gather information without meaningful judicial checks. Section 215 of the Patriot Act, for example, allows the government to gather information about individuals, ranging from credit card records to library transactions, just on a request from the special agent in charge of an FBI office. Pursuant to President Bush’s executive order, the National Security Agency engaged in massive electronic eavesdropping of American citizens without warrants and in violation of the Constitution and federal laws.

The litany America’s civil liberties failings throughout history should serve as a reminder that we must respond with skepticism to proposals that aim to take away liberties for the sake of security after the bombings in Boston. There are sure to be such proposals; there always are in the fear that follows such an attack. But at times like these, we would do well to remember the words of the late Justice Louis Brandeis:

"Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government's purposes are beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding."


The points here apply to a rush to "control" guns as well all other attacks upon civil liberties. There are very good reasons why the Framers included the "cartridge box" along side the "jury box," the "soap box," and the "ballot box" in their original design of our system of government--admittedly now much corroded by corruption.

I would add, too, that about the same time as the passage of the Alien and Sedition Act, the early Congress also passed legislation constricting firearm access to Native American ("Indians") and slaves. Generally, people in power wish to restrict the rights and opportunities of the dis-empowered to object---particularly their opportunity to object in the strongest possible terms.

Could not agree more with the basic thrust of this piece.

For historical clarification, though, it should be noted that while Jefferson campaigned in 1800 against the grotesque abuses of the Alien & Sedition Acts, once elected that eloquent aristocratic slave-owner & apostle of freedom and the common man,--actively encouraged local authorities to prosecute unfriendly editors.

Similarly, 'constitutional law professor' Barack Obama campaigned against torture and Gitmo--but once in office discovered the joys of unfettered executive power--and now claims an unchecked right to order assassinations of even US citizens.

I am very troubled that a major metropolitan area was basically shutdown and placed on lock-down while a small army pursued TWO suspects. That bit of martial law--imposed under the Administration of nominal political liberals Pres. Obama & Governor Patrick--is at least as terrifying as the original crime at the marathon.

World Socialist Web Site
New questions on Boston bombing suspects’ ties to US intelligence
By Andrea Peters
29 April 2013

Information continues to come to light raising questions about the relationship between American intelligence agencies and the Tsarnaev brothers, who are suspected of carrying out the April 15 bombing at the Boston marathon.

The brothers’ parents continue to insist that their sons are innocent, with the mother claiming they were set up by the American state and “controlled” by the FBI.

US authorities have acknowledged that the Tsarnaev brothers were investigated by the FBI and CIA. However, they claim that at most the intelligence and security agencies are guilty of a “failure to communicate” what they knew about the two.

This is an echo of the “failure to connect the dots” explanation that was given for the failure of the CIA and FBI to prevent the 9/11 attacks, even though many of the perpetrators were known to these agencies and were being tracked. Despite the staggering security lapses that were acknowledged in the aftermath of 9/11, no high-level officials were fired. Robert Mueller, who headed the FBI in 2001, remains the head of the top federal police agency.

Details continue to emerge over the close surveillance by state intelligence agencies of the Tsarnaevs and their associates. In March 2011, the Russian federal security services (FSB) intercepted a call between Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older of the two brothers, and his mother, in which they “vaguely discussed jihad.”

In another wiretapped conversation, Tsarnaev’s mother spoke with someone in the Caucasus who is under FBI investigation, although the reasons for the investigation have not been revealed.

According to news reports, the recorded calls were one of the things that prompted the Kremlin to alert the FBI to the Tsarnaevs in 2011, and then contact the CIA about them later in the year, after the FBI dropped its investigation. The FBI claims that the Russian government did not say at the time why it was issuing these warnings and did not share the content of the wiretapped conversations.

The manner in which these issues are being handled testifies to the breakdown of democratic processes in the United States. None of these questions is being seriously investigated in the media or made the subject of public congressional hearings. Instead, the Boston bombings are being seized upon to argue for boosting the authority and power of the intelligence agencies.

As the events in Boston graphically demonstrated, this will only facilitate plans already well advanced for the imposition of dictatorial forms of rule. The Boston Marathon bombing was seized upon as the pretext for placing the entire city of Boston and a number of its suburbs under a police-military lockdown and carrying out house-to-house warrantless searches.

The American mass media have ignored an April 24 report in the Russian newspaper Izvestia that it is in possession of documents from the Georgian Interior Ministry revealing that Tamerlan Tsarnaev attended a workshop in Georgia in the summer of 2012 sponsored by an organization called the Caucasus Fund, whose purpose was to recruit operatives in the northern Caucasus.

Based on statements by Colonel Grigoriy Chanturiya, a Georgian counterintelligence specialist, Izvestia claims that the Caucasus Fund was founded in 2008, after the Russo-Georgian war, in order to develop intelligence assets in southern Russia. According to Chanturiya’s report, the Caucasus Fund had a monthly budget of about $22,000 and had spent approximately $2.7 million since it began operations.

In 2008, Russia and the US nearly went to war in the Caucasus, when the US-backed Georgian government attacked the Russian-controlled breakaway region of South Ossetia. Although the White House backed away from a full-scale military confrontation with the Kremlin, it had advance knowledge of the Georgian attack on Russian forces and did not stop it. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had visited the country one month prior to the attack.

According to Izvestia, the Caucasus Fund was shut down in late 2012 over concerns that it had attracted the attention of the Russian secret services. The former vice president of the organization told the newspaper that since January of this year it had ceased operating almost entirely. He did not say why.

The Caucasus Fund allegedly worked with the regime in Tbilisi and the Jamestown Foundation, a US think tank headed by a number of senior figures from the US political and military establishment, including former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski.

The Georgian Interior Ministry has denied Izvestia ’s allegations, insisting that Tsarnaev never set foot in Georgia and that no one named Grigoriy Chanturiya works for the ministry.

However, the Caucasus Fund has acknowledged holding a joint conference with the Jamestown Foundation in 2011. It wrote in an April 24 statement that it aims to “establish and develop scientific, cultural, and humanitarian relations between the peoples of the South and North Caucasus.”

The northern Caucasus is a restive region in southern Russia, bordering the ex-Soviet republics of Georgia and Azerbaijan in the southern Caucasus. It includes the republic of Chechnya, where a separatist movement has been active since the collapse of the Soviet Union and against which Moscow has waged two bloody wars. Chechen separatism has become increasingly intertwined with a burgeoning Islamic extremist movement in the Muslim-majority region.

Powerful sections of the American ruling class have long given support to Chechen separatism. The American Committee for Peace in the Caucasus (ACPC), sponsored by the right-wing organization Freedom House, has led such efforts for many years. A 2004 article in the British Guardian newspaper entitled “The Chechens’ American Friends” noted that ACPC portrayed Chechen separatism as a “fashionable ‘Muslim’ cause,” deserving and requiring US support.

The director of programs in the Caucasus for the Jamestown Foundation formerly worked for Freedom House.

In the US media, the Izvestia report has been mentioned only by a few foreign policy publications, which have dismissed it as a “conspiracy theory.”

In fact, the close ties between the US foreign policy establishment and Chechen Islamist forces form a critical part of the background to the Boston bombings. By suppressing such information the media are denying to the public key information regarding not only the identity of possible forces involved in the bombing, but also the reactionary implications of Washington’s ongoing collaboration with Islamist terrorist forces in the Middle East.

The US is working in alliance with Muslim extremists in Syria, who function as Washington’s proxy force in the war to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In this war, Chechen Islamists play a major role. The Muhajireen Brigade of foreign Islamists fighting as part of the Syrian opposition is led by an ethnic Chechen, Abu Omar al-Shishani, and reportedly includes many other Chechens.

Before his death last October, the Chechen Abu Bara was a brigade commander in the Al-Nusra Front, the Al Qaeda-affiliated group that is playing the dominant military role in the US proxy war against Assad.

The US government has a long tradition of cultivating ties with such reactionary forces. It played a central role in fomenting radical Islamism in Afghanistan before and during the Soviet-Afghan war of the 1980s, in an effort to undermine Soviet influence in the region. The emergence of Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, which evolved out of the organization that oversaw logistical support to the Islamist anti-Soviet fighters, was the direct product of this war.

The US intelligence community is so familiar with the consequences of losing control of its former assets that it has coined a term for it: blowback. However, the media have avoided raising any possibility that the Boston bombings might be an example of blowback, or an operation carried out with the tacit support or assistance of forces within the state.

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There risks in a free society. We will never be completely safe until the world is free from evil people. Not happening. Politicians pass laws, that's what they do. Many of them have good intentions and many are as evil as the terrorists they proclaim to protect us from. Our government is corrupt. We need less of it in our lives. A new law, now, is almost never a good solution to anything. Responsible , alert, hard working citizens will go much farther to making our society safer. Government will never adequately serve us.

The founders were keenly aware of how easily liberty can be lost or given away. Benjamin Franklin once remarked “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” The resource Why is America Free? chronologically records what Ben Franklin and other founders and great Americans have said and written about the subject.

I am very troubled that a major metropolitan area was basically shutdown and placed on lock-down while a small army pursued TWO suspects. That bit of martial law--imposed under the Administration of nominal political liberals Pres. Obama & Governor Patrick--is at least as terrifying as the original crime at the marathon.

Henceforth, should we accept fascist measures--but only if approved by nominally 'liberal' pols???

If Deval Patrick plans to run for President--a denunciation of the Obama Administration's fascist approach to things recently--would make his tenure as Administration 'civil rights' chief a meaningful qualification.

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