The Men in Black came for Gerry
Weber last week. Weber -- who isn't an alien but
who dabbles in a concept totally alien to the
Bush regime, liberty -- was giving a speech at
Georgia Tech when guys in shades and dark suits
grabbed him and hauled him off. No explanation,
no reading him his rights, no phone call to a
lawyer, no public record of his detention --
just a vanishing act.
Did he land in one of Guantanamo's cages or
somewhere else in America's new political gulag?
Has he been summarily executed by a military
tribunal? Is he being tortured?
Was it the books Weber checked out at the
library that did him in? Was it that he marched
in a demonstration that disrupted traffic? Or
did the government have no reason -- other than
that it didn't like Weber?
"It is just that bad," Weber laughed after
his "detention." "In times of crisis, the
country takes steps it later regrets. That's
what is happening now."
OK, it was only a little theater, starring
the legal director of the Georgia ACLU and
intended to illustrate the civil libertarians'
warnings that our rights are threatened. It's a
clear and present danger. And it's not Osama bin
Laden and Saddam Hussein who have our liberties
in their gun sights; it's George Bush and John
Weber came back. But rights and people are
disappearing in America. They might never
And hardly anyone is noticing. Or, they're
afraid to say what they see. The pathetic
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, for
example, on May 9 reduced efforts to end
repressive laws to the level of an intra-mural
squash tourney titled "Senators cut deal on
anti-terror measures." Then, two days later, the
paper's editorial section promised an in-depth
look at plans to expand the government's assault
on liberty -- but delivered more of the "he says
it's good, but that other guy says it's bad"
I do a Tuesday talk show on WALR 1340
AM with aspiring right-wingnuts Mike Rose and
Martha Zoller. When I recently pummeled Rose and
Zoller about their silence of the attacks on
liberties, they chimed in unison, "John, this is
war. No one's rights are really being taken
Tell that to Mike Hawash. The Intel employee
was on his way to his Portland, Ore., home two
months ago. Federal agents armed with assault
rifles surrounded him in his company's parking
lot -- while other heavily armed G-men were
terrorizing his wife and three small children.
Hawash, a U.S. citizen for 15 years with a
spotless and commendable record in the
community, has been held in solitary confinement
since he was fed-napped.
As salon.com reported: "He has not
been charged with any crime, and there has not
been any suggestion that he committed one. The
Justice Department says Hawash is a witness, but
it won't say to what. It won't say what
information it wants from him, it won't say what
agents were hoping to find when they searched
his house, it won't say why he needs to be in
custody and it won't say how long it plans to
keep him there."
Hawash's story is being repeated around the
nation. This is America? If so, it isn't the
society envisioned by Tom Jefferson, Tom Paine
and their pals.
Long before Mohammed Atta and his
colleagues flew jetliners into the twin towers,
the government had drafted its draconian assault
on civil liberties. That's not a disputed fact,
although it's neglected in most reporting of
what has been egregiously misnamed the USA
Bush, as you'll recall, claimed (falsely as
it turned out) that he had no prior intelligence
of a possibly imminent and likely horrific
terrorist attack. If he was telling the truth
(which he wasn't, although that wouldn't become
evident until eight months after 9-11), Congress
and the media might have questioned how the law
was so speedily cobbled together. Actually, some
were curious and some, including conservative
Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, refused to support the
Patriot Act because the 342-page bill wasn't
even printed before the vote was called a mere
45 days after 9-11.
The Patriot Act has an interesting premise.
It was described as an emergency measure and, to
get congressional support, it included "sunset"
provisions; in 2005, the extraordinary powers
would end. That, of course, was a duplicitous
Trojan horse. Once the law was passed, the Bush
Republican Guard, notably Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch,
started calling for it to be permanent. With a
sly wink, Hatch and his fellow travelers (are
those brown shirts they're wearing under $200
power ties?) argue that the war on terrorism
will never be over, so Patriot should be written
And what did the law do? It unleashed the
government to indulge in all the spying and
snooping on Americans that led to the horrible
abuses in the 1960s and 1970s. The dirty tricks
played by J. Edgar Hoover and his thugs on
Martin Luther King Jr. were reborn. It doesn't
matter that those who are victims aren't engaged
in illegal acts. Something they say or someone
they know is sufficient to summon Ashcroft's
Mixing Orwellian and biblical metaphors,
Weber comments: "Big Brother has reached the
level of Goliath."
On May 6, Natalia Taylor, a librarian at
Georgia State, joined Weber and others at Tech
for a Defense of the Bill of Rights Campaign pep
rally. For her, the Patriot Act is a very real
threat. The feds can demand the lists of books
people read and the websites they visit on
library computers. "And if we say anything, if
we disclose what the government is doing, we can
be arrested," Taylor says.
Most ominously, Patriot defined "domestic
terrorism" so that dissent and civil
disobedience could be targeted for repression.
The Bush regime has pushed secrecy to levels
that warm the hearts of dictators. The
government has refused to say how many people
have been detained, how many people have been
bugged and spied upon. When Congress members
(including Republicans) have asked for routine
statistical information on the law's impact,
Ashcroft has thumbed his nose.
Now on the launching pad is something
dubbed Patriot II or Son of Patriot. A
collection of proposals that hadn't been
intended for public consumption -- until too
late for citizens to react -- it was leaked and
initially made public by journalist Bill Moyers
and the Center for Public Integrity. It would:
-- Put in jeopardy the most basic right of
Americans, citizenship. The draft provides that
any citizen, native-born or naturalized, who
supports even the lawful activities of a group
the government deems "terrorist" could be
stripped of citizenship. There would be no
-- Non-citizens -- including those stripped
of citizenship -- could be deported for a wide
variety of reasons, including some as vague as
being a "threat" to the nation's economic
interest. So, if you protested corporate crime
or Halliburton cronyism, adios.
-- Suspected terrorists (which with Bush,
means political threats) could be detained
indefinitely and would have no way to get their
case heard. The government wouldn't have to
prove guilt. It wouldn't even have to offer any
evidence beyond, "We say so, so shut up."
-- Secret arrests -- a favorite tactic of the
Gestapo, the KGB, Fidel Castro, Saddam Hussein
and other totalitarian regimes -- would become
legal. What, you haven't seen Mr. Smith for a
few days? Ssshhh, or they'll come and get you,
-- You don't want people to read your e-mail,
so you encrypt it? You could be a criminal.
-- That sacred American tradition -- the
right to sue if you're wronged -- would be
history under Patriot II. The government and
federal agents would be "immunized," no matter
how hideous their abuse of constitutional
-- Finally, the government's grab at
information about you -- including your DNA --
would be elevated to a status unheard of in a
democracy. You will be watched. The government
-- without judicial oversight or the knowledge
of those targeted -- could secretly go after
your bank and credit reports, and phone records.
In short, say farewell to the First, Fourth,
Fifth, Sixth and Eighth amendments to the
None of this will make us safer. It will
merely make us unfree.
Do something -- while you still can.
About 100 local governments across the nation
have passed resolutions opposing the usurpation
of freedom by the Patriot Act and its diseased
spawn, Patriot II. The Atlanta City Council is
being asked by freedom-lovers (email@example.com,
support a similar resolution. It declares that
the city "affirms its strong opposition to
terrorism, but also affirms that any effort to
end terrorism should not be waged at the expense
of essential civil rights and the liberties of
the people of the United States."
Run that up the flag poll, and I'll salute
Senior Editor John Sugg -- who says,
"Where's Keanu Reeves now that we have a real
matrix of robotic government goons attacking our
freedoms?" -- can be reached at 404-614-1241 or