Top Ten Abuses of Power Since 9/11

David Letterman isn’t the only one who can come up with Top Ten lists, but this one is no laughing matter. The American Civil Liberties Union has compiled a list of the Top Ten Abuses of Power Since 9/11:

9/11 and Civil Liberties >>> The Challenge to Illegal Spying
> Torture: Seeking Truth and Accountability
> Secret CIA Kidnappings: El-Masri v. Tenet
> Reform the Patriot Act
> Video: Stop the Abuse of Power

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1. Warrantless Wiretapping — In December 2005, the New York Times reported the National Security Agency was tapping into telephone calls of Americans without a warrant, in violation of federal statutes and the Constitution. Furthermore, the agency had also gained direct access to the telecommunications infrastructure through some of America’s largest companies. The program was confirmed by President Bush and other officials, who boldly insisted, in the face of all precedent and the common understanding of the law, that the program was legal. And, the agency appears to be not only eavesdropping on the conversations of Americans in this country without warrants, but also using broad “data mining” systems that allow it to analyze information about the communications of millions of innocent people within the United States. This program is one of many examples of the administration’s efforts to evade or to minimize judicial review of its surveillance and detention activities. In August 2006, in a lawsuit brought by the ACLU, a federal judge in Detroit found the program both unconstitutional and illegal.

2. Torture, Kidnapping and Detention — In the years since 9/11, our government has illegally kidnapped, detained and tortured numerous prisoners. The government continues to claim that it has the power to designate anyone, including Americans as “enemy combatants” without charge. Since 2002, some “enemy combatants,” have been held at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere, in some cases without access by the Red Cross. Investigations into other military detention centers have revealed severe human rights abuses and violations of international law, such as the Geneva Conventions. The government has also engaged in the practice of rendition: secretly kidnapping people and moving them to foreign countries where they are tortured and abused. It has been reported the CIA maintains secret prison camps in Eastern Europe to conduct operations that may also violate international standards.

3. The Growing Surveillance Society — In perhaps the greatest assault on the privacy of ordinary Americans, the country is undergoing a rapid expansion of data collection, storage, tracking, and mining. Over and above the invasion of privacy represented by any one specific program, a combination of new technologies, expanded government powers and expanded private-sector data collection efforts is creating a new “surveillance society” that is unlike anything Americans have seen before.

4. Patriot Act Reauthorization — Several provisions of the Patriot Act were set to expire at the end of 2005 and, despite opposition from across the political spectrum and more than 400 community and state resolutions expressing concern about the Patriot Act, Congress reauthorized the law without reforming its most flawed provisions to bring these extraordinary powers back in line with the Constitution. It passed up an opportunity to ensure adequate judicial oversight of the surveillance powers authorized in the Patriot Act. However, lawmakers did extend the “sunsets” (or expiration dates) of some of the more controversial provisions, ensuring that Congress will have to revisit the issue again.

5. Government Secrecy — The Bush administration has been one of the most secretive and nontransparent in our history. The Freedom of Information Act has been weakened , the administration has led a campaign of reclassification and increased secrecy by federal agencies (including the expansion of a catch-all category of “sensitive but unclassified”), and has made sweeping claims of “state secrets” to stymie judicial review of many of its policies that infringe on civil liberties. It even refused to grant government investigators the security clearances they needed to investigate the illegal and unconstitutional NSA wiretapping program. The administration has also expressed interest in prosecuting journalists under the Espionage Act of 1917: essentially trying to quell the media’s role in exposing questionable, illegal and unconstitutional conduct, including the maintenance of secret CIA prisons abroad and the NSA wiretapping program.

6. Real ID — The 2005 Real ID Act, rammed through Congress by being attached to a unrelated, “must pass” bill, lays the foundation for a national ID card and makes it more difficult for persecuted people to seek asylum. Under the law, states are required to standardize their drivers licenses (according to a still undetermined standard) and link to databases to be shared with every federal, state and local government official in every other state. Conservative estimates place the cost of the program at $10-12 billion. Opposition to the bill and its implementation remains fierce, and comes from groups such as the National Governor’s Association and the National Council of State Legislators.

7. No Fly and Selectee Lists — The No-Fly list was established to keep track of people the government prohibits from traveling because they have been labeled as security risks. Since 9/11 the number of similar watch lists has mushroomed, all with mysterious or ill-defined criteria for how names are placed on the lists, and with little recourse for innocent travelers seeking to be taken off them. These lists name an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 people. The lists are so erroneous several members of Congress, including Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA), have been flagged.

8. Political Spying — Government agencies — including the FBI and the Department of Defense — have conducted their own spying on innocent and law-abiding Americans. Through the Freedom of Information Act, the ACLU learned the FBI had been consistently monitoring peaceful groups such Quakers, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Greenpeace, the Arab American Anti-Defamation Committee and, indeed, the ACLU itself.

9. Abuse of Material Witness Statute — In the days and weeks after 9/11, the government gathered and detained many people — mostly Muslims in the US — through the abuse of a narrow federal technicality that permits the arrest and brief detention of “material witnesses,” or those who have important information about a crime. Most of those detained as material witnesses were never treated as witnesses to the crimes of 9/11, and though they were detained so that their testimony could be secured, in many cases, no effort was made to secure their testimony. The government has apologized for wrongfully detaining 13 people as material witnesses. Some were imprisoned for more than six months and one actually spent more than a year behind bars.

10. Attacks on Academic Freedom — The Bush administration has used a provision in the Patriot Act to engage in a policy of “censorship at the border” to keep scholars with perceived political views the administration does not like out of the United States. The ACLU has filed a lawsuit challenging this ideological exclusion, charging that it is being used to prevent United States citizens and residents from hearing speech protected by the First Amendment. Additionally, government policies and practices have hampered academic freedom and scientific inquiry since 9/11, creating a system where science has come under siege. The government has moved to overclassify information and has engaged in outright censorship and prescreening of scientific articles before publication.

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5 Comments

  1. 1
    Agent KGB says:

    Spying on the Quakers? Yeah, they’re a real threat.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    Agnet KGB,

    Well, to play Devil’s Advocate, I can think of three words to refute your argument that Quackers are not a threat: Richard Milhouse Nixon. 🙂

  3. 3
    REB 84 says:

    I guess incompetence and lack of focus can’t be considered abuses of power, how about betrayals of trust? Following is a case in point.

    9/11 – An Attack Against Humanity
    I read a very interesting note on meetings between Iran, China, and Russia at misneach blog a couple months ago. I wonder why I haven’t heard much about this anywhere else? The strategic value of developing closer relationships between theses countries is clear to see, for anyone who is paying attention.

    China’s rapid growth is fueling an insatiable appetite for Oil.

    Russia is looking for any market to sell its products and services. Is Iran hiring? Have they posted any want ads for a nuclear scientist?

    Both China and Russia are permanent members of the UN Security Council. Any UN sponsored sanctions against Iran will likely face a veto from one or both of these nations, based upon their own strategic reasons. What is America to do? The military option is unrealistic.

    Today, America is over extended militarily and out of touch diplomatically. I am most saddened by the reckless disregard for diplomacy, civility, and sportsmanship the Bush Administration has displayed since 9/11/01. They have managed to pull defeat and division from the jaws of victory and cohesion in the real “war on terror.” Just look at Afghanistan if you doubt this assertion.

    The world mourned with us and for themselves after Sept. 11th. The attack on the World Trade Center was not only an attack upon America. It was an attack against all humanity. Citizens of far too many other countries died on 9/11 in NYC.

    The other countries and thousands of families who lost loved ones at “ground zero” are fighting their own personal wars on terror everyday. Their lives have been changed forever. How dare we allow our “public servants” to exploit their sufferings to launch a preemptive war on Iraq, while not bringing Bin Laden to justice?

    QuestionItNow – Still In Iraq

  4. 4
    REB 84 says:

    I wonder where electronic voting machines falls into the mix?

  5. 5
    mbk says:

    Ron, Nixon’s family was part of the Whittier,CA Quakers. They were an aberrantly conservative branch, and don’t count. : )

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