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I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Still more unchecked powers for the Bush administration

This article from the San Francisco Chronicle details the truly amazing story of two U.S. citizens -- a 45-year old resident of the San Francisco area and his 18-year old son -- who, after travelling to Pakistan, have been barred by the Bush administration from re-entering the country. They have not been charged with any crime, and no court has ordered or even authorized this denial of entry. The administration is just unilaterally prohibiting these two Americans from re-entering their country.

A relative of the two men (the older man's nephew) was convicted in April by a California federal jury on charges of supporting terrorism as a result of his attending a Pakistani training camp (and just incidentally, the conviction was obtained under some controversial circumstances). And the Federal Government is now demanding that his two relatives submit to FBI interrogation in Pakistan as a condition for being allowed to return home to the U.S.

According to the article, the two Americans have already submitted to an FBI interview, but one of them -- the American-born 18-year-old -- "had run afoul of the FBI when he declined to be interviewed again without a lawyer and refused to take a lie-detector test. " For those actions -- i.e., invoking his constitutional rights to counsel and against self-incrimination -- he is being refused entry back into his country. And the Bush administration is now conditioning his re-entry on his relinquishing the most basic constitutional protections guaranteed to him by the Bill of Rights.

Since neither of the two Americans are citizens of any other country, they are in a bizarre legal limbo where the only country they have the right to enter, the U.S., is refusing to allow them to return home. The Chronicle article quotes Michael Barr, director of the aviation safety and security program at USC, as follows: "You become what is called a stateless person, and that would be very unprecedented."

Anyone for whom there is reason to believe that they are working with terrorist groups ought to be aggressively investigated by the Government. If there is sufficient evidence to believe that they have some affiliation with terrorist groups, they ought to be arrested and charged with crimes. All of that goes without saying.

But what possible authority exists for the Bush administration -- unilaterally, with no judicial authorization, and no charges being brought -- to bar U.S. citizens from entering their own country? And what kind of American would favor vesting in the Federal Government the power to start prohibiting other American citizens from entering the U.S. even though they have been charged with no crime and no court has authorized their exclusion?

Over the past five years, this administration and its supporters have advocated empowering the Government to detain U.S. citizens indefinitely in military prisons without a trial, eavesdrop on their telephone conversations without any warrants, track and chronicle all of their telephone calls, and now bar their entry into the U.S. -- all without any criminal charges being filed and without any opportunity to contest the accusations, all of which are formed in secret.

[And on a related note, Digby insightfully examines the disturbing arrest (disturbing, that is, for those who believe in the First Amendment) of New York resident Javed Iqbal for re-broadcasting a television channel owned by Hezbollah -- something the Bush administration intends to equate with "providing material support for terrorism." (Unrelatedly, that incident is an excellent illustration of the intolerable dangers of European/Canadian "hate speech" laws which vest in the government the power to ban certain ideas as too dangerous or wrong; anyone who believes in those laws has no ground to complain about Iqbal's arrest by the Bush administration)].

What powers do Bush supporters think the Federal Government should not have against U.S. citizens, if any? To judge by this Editorial from National Review -- which tells us that we are "in the early stages of a long war"; advocates lengthy periods of "preventive detention" of U.S. citizens without any charges being brought; and rails against what it calls "hypothetical privacy violations" (such as the Government listening in on your calls without any warrants) -- the answer is "none."

But there's no need to worry. The Bush administration only intends to use these extraordinary, unchecked powers for your own good -- to protect you. That's why all of this yammering about the need for oversight or checks is just shrill paranoia. Placing blind trust and faith in the Goodness of our leaders to exercise powers against us in secret and with no oversight is the bedrock principle on which this country was founded. Only someone who hates this country could be against all of that.

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