Green Party Condemns Attacks on Constitutional Rights


Monday, November 26, 2001

Nancy Allen, 207-326-4576
Scott McLarty, 202-518-5624
Mark Dunlea 518 286-3411
Steve Breyman 518 283-5987

Bush is sacrificing due process, protections against unwarranted search and seizure, privacy, and the right to dissent, with craven help from Democrats, say Greens

Greens call for release of those held on nonexistent evidence and suspicion based solely on ethnicity or immigration

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Green Party sharply criticized recent measures enacted by the Bush Administration and the recent antiterrorism legislation passed by Congress, calling them a severe blow to constitutional rights, protections against violations of privacy, and anti-discrimination guarantees, and unlikely to be effective in keeping Americans safe from acts of terrorism.

"President Bush has established an Office of Homeland Security that is subject neither to congressional nor public oversight," said David Cobb, a Texas Green organizer and Legal Counsel for the national party. "We're seeing new tools for the suppression of legitimate political dissent. The distinction between domestic law enforcement and foreign intelligence is being erased. Ashcroft's terrorism alerts are being used to frighten Americans into accepting these measures and sacrificing their privacy rights. These actions are systematically eroding the freedoms President Bush says we are fighting to protect."

Greens list several measures that violate essential rights and freedoms:

*** The Antiterrorism Act passed by Congress at the President's request in late October guts the Constitution's guarantees of habeas corpus, presumption of innocence, and due process, allowing the federal government (the Justice Department, CIA, FBI, and INS) to incarcerate or detain non citizens on nonexistent or secret evidence, conduct wiretaps and surveillance without evidence of wrong-doing, conduct searches and seizures without warrant, eavesdrop on private conversations between defendants and their lawyers in violation of attorney-client privilege, and investigate private citizens without 'probable cause'. The bill also allows the government to wield the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA) as a weapon to harass dissident organizations under the guise of fighting terrorism, subjecting them to unconstitutional search and seizure.

"The bill, with the Orwellian nickname USA PATRIOT Act, is being used to target non-citizen Arabs, even though the Constitution's protections apply to all people in the U.S. regardless of citizenship," said Steve Breyman, a member of the Capital District and Rensselaer County (New York) Greens and a professor of environmental policy at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. "But this legislation abrogates the constitutional rights of all Americans, even as we're being told that opposing it means lack of patriotism."

Greens note that the Antiterrorism Act passed with the support of both Democrats and Republicans — only Sen. Russell Feingold voted nay in the Senate — and that conservative Republicans, not Democrats, negotiated expiration dates for some of the bill's more repressive violations of privacy. The expiration dates may prove meaningless if the 'War on Terrorism' is as open-ended as President Bush promises.

"This is the same 'bipartisan' surrender as when Democrats helped confirm Ashcroft and Norton," added Robbie Franklin, a Texas Green and treasurer of the Green Party of the United States. "Constitutional rights are not negotiable, to be compromised in order to investigate crime. It was against such compromises that the Bill of Rights was enacted in the first place."

*** Since September 11, the government has detained nearly 1,200 people, many on immigration violations; the Justice Department will not say how many have been released. Muhammed Butt, a 55-year-old Pakistani man, died of a heart attack after being locked away for a month on a simple visa violation. Other detainees have been denied the right to see a lawyer or their families. The New York Times reported on November 13 that the Justice Department is profiling students of Arab ancestry.

"We praised President Bush's condemnation of harassment against Muslims and people of Arab ancestry after the September 11 attacks," said Anita Rios, an Ohio Green and member of the party's national steering committee. "But the widespread targeting by the government of many of the same people undermines protections against bias based on ethnicity and religion. We take this personally, as many Green Party members come from Arab and Muslim backgrounds. Our 2000 presidential candidate is Lebanese-American."

Greens demand that those held on nonexistent evidence, baseless suspicion, or irrelevant reasons be released, and that due process be guaranteed for all held on more substantial evidence. The government should adhere to prevailing standards of evidence and to usual legal procedures for those held only on invalid visas, with full respect for the legal rights of immigrants and consideration of amnesty for undocumented workers and their families.

*** President Bush has ordered secret military tribunals, with the power to wield the death penalty, for noncitizens accused of assisting terrorists. Apologists for this order claim that Abraham Lincoln also instituted secret trials during the Civil War, but ignore the Supreme Court's later decision that Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus was unconstitutional, saying that military trials (what the court called "martial rule") must be confined to the location of an actual war, may only be used for a limited duration, and may not be applied in places where the civil courts and government are in full operation.

"The U.S.'s reputation as a free nation governed by laws and whose government is limited by rights will suffer greatly — especially in the Muslim world, since most of those targeted will be Muslim or Arab, but also among nations — and among many Americans, including Greens — who have called for an international court to deal with terrorists and who oppose the death penalty," said Anita Rios.

"There's an inherent conflict of interest here," said David Cobb, noting that the President's order abolishes the constitutional separation of executive and judicial branches. "The fact that military courts are tied to the executive branch means that there will be pressure from the president to try and convict, for public relations reasons, whether the person is guilty or not. Furthermore, the verdicts of military courts are not likely to be accepted overseas, and it may set a terrible precedent for how our own citizens will be treated when detained in other countries."

*** Torture has been discussed as a means of stopping further terrorism, even though torture (whether committed by the U.S. or 'outsourced' to less democratic nations) violates international law, is notoriously unreliable for collecting information, and places the U.S. at the moral level of the Taliban.

*** A national ID card has been proposed, even though such a measure won't stop terrorists and can easily be used to violate privacy by tracking Americans' travel, spending habits, and other personal information.

*** Some Congress members and Bush Administration officials (especially advisor Paul Wolfowitz) want to revise the Posse Comitatus Act in order to allow the U.S. military to be used for civilian law enforcement.

*** President Bush signed an executive order that allows any incumbent president to block release of presidential documents of a predecessor, whether or not the past president wants the records disclosed. Under this order, files that incriminate current and former officials can be hidden from investigation by journalists and historians — a valuable strategem for the Bush Administration to shield current officials from future accountability.

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