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Liberties Lost Since 9/11

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- The First Amendment rights of freedom of speech, press, association, assembly, religion, and petitioning government for redress of grievances, all newly under pressure from widespread warrantless surveillance, secret datamining of private data, surreptitious infiltration of peaceful protest and solidarity groups, President Obama's increased prosecution of supposedly protected whistleblowers and leakers, and changes in the law allowing criminalization and chilling of such speech and association promoting peace and human rights under the Patriot Act's "material support" provision (which criminalized "expert advice and assistance" and was upheld in the US Supreme Court's closely divided, erroneous decision Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project),

- The Fourth Amendment rights to freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures without a warrant and probable cause to believe a crime or terrorism was involved, which also have been eroded by the FISA Amendments Act (allowing the Bush-era illegal warrantless surveillance of Americans' phone calls, emails, and web-surfing habits), Patriot Act provisions including section 505 regarding the notorious and repeatedly abused National Security Letters (allowing the FBI to search a wide variety of library and business records without probable cause, any judicial review, or notifying the target), section 215 (the library and business records provision requiring the secret FISA court to approve searches on a mere "relevance" standard and probably also being interpreted to allow a secret datamining program some Senators say would "stun" and "anger" the US public if revealed), section 213 (allowing sneak and peek" secret black bag job searches of homes), and section 218 (basically importing expansive foreign intelligence surveillance powers into domestic criminal law).

- The Fifth Amendment rights to due process of law has been infringed not only by the extreme measure of assassination noted above, but also by increasingly routine arbitrary changes of the rules--contrary to President Obama's promises -- so as to block accountability for other violations of fundamental rights, as with the use of the state secrets privilege, standing, and other procedural doctrines to completely immunize those who labeled citizens like Jose Padilla "enemy combatants", or those who tortured, participated in extraordinary rendition (kidnapping and "disappearing" people) to places of torture, and planned and conducted warrantless surveillance,

- The Eighth Amendment rights to freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment (also protected by an international treaty, the Convention Against Torture, signed by Pres. Ronald Reagan, and by federal statute), which has been rhetorically embraced by both the Bush and Obama administrations but ignored in practice (especially by the former, but also allegedly to a lesser extent even by the latter, in cases such as those of Bradley Manning, Gulet Muhammed, and in Afghanistan and Iraq).

Have these major infringements spilled over into the routine law enforcement and justice systems of the United States?

"Some of us had naïve expectations that these developments wouldn't further affect ordinary citizens. We all know that legions of ordinary citizens already have been harmed and had their privacy and liberties infringed by National Security Letters and other Patriot Act provisions, as decades of gradual progress in expanding rights have been undermined and generations who have fought for hard-won liberties have seen both their liberty and their security dramatically reduced this past decade. This category includes:

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- The increasing militarization of domestic policing and intelligence gathering, as seen in such developments as the Pentagon's new Northern Command, the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) involvement in domestic intelligence and counterterror efforts, Pentagon involvement in infiltration of domestic peace and anti-war groups, increasing deployment of weaponized drones within US borders as well as at the borders, and the surveillance, biometric, and other equipment and weapons defense contractors have imported from Iraq and Afghanistan into American streets, all as described (among others) by Dana Priest and Bill Arkin in their Top Secret America Washington Post series and book, and all in great tension with our Constitutional regime and historic bias against domestic deployment of military forces as reflected in Posse Comitatus and other laws,

- Although sold as temporary, emergency counterterror measures, these laws and approaches such as the Patriot Act have only become more permanent and used overwhelmingly for routine, domestic law enforcement (such as drug cases and minor offenses) -- as repeatedly confirmed in the government's own reports, such as the recent one described by the ACLU pertaining to "sneak and peek" home search warrants -- again contrary to the basic premises and fundamental laws of our democratic republic and its origins in a Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights arranged precisely against such arbitrary and unconstrained power.

- The way the laws have, as described above, been used to immunize high officials and the powerful from accountability of any type (no torture victim has received his or her day in US court!) at the very time laws for lesser violations have resulted in the United States carrying the dubious honor of having imprisoned more of its population, in both absolute and percentage terms, than any other nation in the world. This discrepancy remains a substantial driver for the Occupy movement and can be expected to continue to drive social instability, protest, and conflict unless and until the gaps in transparency and accountability are remedied and again realigned with the original, sensible Constitutional vision and allocation of rights and powers.


Chip Pitts teaches human rights and corporate social responsibility law at Stanford Law School and Oxford University, and serves as a volunteer activist for a number of organizations and initiatives seeking to advance human rights, civil liberties, social justice, and economic development.

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William Fisher has managed economic development programs in the Middle East and elsewhere for the US State Department and the US Agency for International Development. He served in the international affairs area in the Kennedy Administration and now (more...)

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They scared out government into defeating itself.... by Eric Arthur Blair on Sunday, Nov 6, 2011 at 1:58:26 PM
out=our... by Eric Arthur Blair on Sunday, Nov 6, 2011 at 1:59:17 PM
It was the citizens of this country who were aslee... by Judy Palmer on Sunday, Nov 6, 2011 at 6:09:02 PM
You don't seem to understand government power grab... by Maxwell on Monday, Nov 7, 2011 at 1:06:23 PM
I hope you mean the 'terrorists' in our Congress, ... by 911TRUTH on Sunday, Nov 6, 2011 at 11:34:27 PM