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Troubling Down to the Core

© by Jean Hay Bright

August 2002

When I was a kid, some thick-accented relatives tried to tell me about the “old country,” how you had to be careful what you said out loud, because the government would knock on the door of your house in the middle of the night and lock up people who expressed opinions they didn’t like.  No lawyer, no trial, no phone calls to relatives. Just gone into the darkness.

I remember thinking they were crazy. We had free speech in the United States of America.  Didn’t everyone? As someone once said, if you grew up with a piano in the house, you think everyone has a piano in the house.

Besides, I couldn’t imagine any government that would even be interested in what ordinary people thought.

Ever since the Highest Court In Our Land short-circuited the vote-counting process in Florida, I've been finding fewer and fewer pianos. In fact, I get the feeling that the beautiful composition that I know as the United States of America has been disappearing before my eyes.

For instance – once I got a little older, I learned that other countries did indeed have different laws, some very different.  And that when we Americans travel abroad, our laws do not follow us, that the laws in the countries we visit are the ones that apply while we are there.  And that the reverse was likewise true, that people visiting in this country are subject to our laws.

But now the Bush administration and our Attorney General John Ashcroft are telling us that America’s laws apply only to American citizens.  They’ve jailed hundreds of immigrants for months on end without charges, even refusing to release their names, on the pretext that "the enemy" will then know what we're doing.  These non-Americans have become like the "Disappeareds" in Central America, like the peasants in the Ukraine.

            How can they just change the rules like that?

Then the Bastions of Supreme Authority decided to claim that American justice doesn't even have to apply to American citizens. The all-powers-that-be just have to simply label a given American citizen a "terrorist."  No access to a lawyer, no appeal process, no one other than our Justice Department deciding what constitutes a "terrorist" in a given situation.

This, in America?

If you are still a trusting soul and think our government knows a terrorist when it sees one (“not to worry”), then can you explain why, here in Bangor a few months ago, a Green Party activist was prevented from boarding a plane to Chicago, where she was supposed to give a speech?  The name of this older, overweight, asthmatic woman had come up on the airline computer, and she was suddenly surrounded by young men with assault weapons.  Who had put her name on that airline watch list, and what had they used for criteria?  She has not been able to find out.

If it can happen to her, it can happen to any of us.

And speaking of being surrounded by young men with weapons, what about the prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay? We don't know who they all are, and our government goons say the "detainees" have no rights because they, en masse, without trial and without presentation of proof in a court of law, have been declared our enemies.  We are supposedly at war, but war has not been declared by Congress. So, we are told, these men are therefore not prisoners of war, and don't have to be treated humanely, as they would have to be under the terms of the Geneva Convention that deal with POWs.  And they are not U.S. citizens, so they don't have the rights of U.S. citizens, even though they are being held by the U.S. Government.

So, we can now snatch people anywhere in the world, bring them to one of our military bases, and hold them indefinitely, without charges or lawyers or trials.  Presumed guilty.  Period.

This is the rule of law we hold so dearly?  Sounds to me like the rule of men, the kind of men we fought a Revolutionary War against. 

Along the way down this dangerous path to totalitarianism, Mr. Bush further declares that the laws of the International Court of Justice will not apply to Americans.  Our military and his administration cannot, according to Mr. Bush, be subject to the whims of people who might want to bring war crimes charges against the United States of America.

That is implying that the World Court is a kangaroo court, which is a slap in the face to all the countries who have signed the document. 

Also, since any charges brought in that World Court would not be retroactive, I am alarmed by this pronouncement. What does Mr. Bush have in mind to do that he knows would be perceived in the World Court as a war crime?

Which may just bring us to Iraq.

What gives any head of state the right to simply announce that a "regime change" is essential in another country, and then proceed to work up the military plans to accomplish that?  Why is Bush pounding his shoe on the table and declaring, “We will bury you!”  Why does he not think that, if he can do something like that, some other head of state cannot proceed likewise against him?  Or against us.

The rationale for an Iraqi invasion, as I understand it, is that Saddam Hussein may have weapons of mass destruction, and if he does, he probably plans to use them against us, so we have every right to go in, preemptively, and kill him and all his kind to protect ourselves.

Those among us who think highly of the Second Amendment to our Constitution should be feeling very uncomfortable with that justification for an invasion.  If mere possession of a lethal weapon combined with a perceived threat are all it takes for our government to use deadly force against another country and head of state, where does that put those of us with guns in our closets if our government decides we are thinking unkind thoughts about them?

If Iraq does not have "weapons of mass destruction," as some who were in the inspections teams in the 1990s contend, then an invasion is unwarranted.  If they do have such weapons, or even conventional missiles, and Iraq is attacked, nearby Israel will be Saddam's first retaliatory target. 

That makes Bush's push to avenge his father's inadequacies a direct threat to the very existence of Israel. 

And if bombs are dropped on Israel, who in the European and Middle East countries will line up on which side of that battle? And how many of those countries possess nuclear weapons?  And who will those weapons be pointed -- or fired -- at?  Will we here in Maine, so close to Europe, be in the line of fire?

Yes, the events of last Sept. 11 were horrific.  And going after the actual perpetrators and their sponsoring organizations is appropriate.  But no evidence has been presented to link Iraq with those events. 

The invasion of Iraq is a suicide mission, for us, for Israel, and possibly for the world as a whole. We are looking at the real possibility of starting World War III.

What I see going on here in the United States of America under the cover of an amorphous "war on terrorism" is troubling right down to our nation's core values.

I want that American-made piano back in the house.  I want that beautiful music to return.

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