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'Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death': The Loss of Our Freedoms in the Wake of 9/11

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From The loss of our freedom.
The loss of our freedom.
(image by -Moe Adel)
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"Since mankind's dawn, a handful of oppressors have accepted the responsibility over our lives that we should have accepted for ourselves. By doing so, they took our power. By doing nothing, we gave it away. We've seen where their way leads, through camps and wars, towards the slaughterhouse." " Alan Moore, V for Vendetta

What began with the passage of the USA Patriot Act in October 2001 has snowballed into the eradication of every vital safeguard against government overreach, corruption and abuse. Since then, we have been terrorized, traumatized, and acclimated to life in the American Surveillance State.

The bogeyman's names and faces change over time, but the end result remains the same: our unquestioning acquiescence to anything the government wants to do in exchange for the phantom promise of safety and security.

Ironically, the 14th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks occurs just days before the 228th anniversary of the ratification of our Constitution. Yet while there is much to mourn about the loss of our freedoms in the years since 9/11, there is virtually nothing to celebrate.

The Constitution has been steadily chipped away at, undermined, eroded, whittled down, and generally discarded to such an extent that what we are left with today is but a shadow of the robust document adopted more than two centuries ago. Most of the damage has been inflicted upon the Bill of Rights--the first ten amendments to the Constitution--which has historically served as the bulwark from government abuse.

Set against a backdrop of government surveillance, militarized police, SWAT team raids, asset forfeiture, eminent domain, overcriminalization, armed surveillance drones, whole body scanners, stop and frisk searches, roving VIPR raids and the like--all sanctioned by a corrupt government run by Congress, the White House and the courts--a recitation of the Bill of Rights now sounds more like a eulogy to freedoms lost than an affirmation of rights we should possess.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the Constitution, which was written to hold the government accountable, has been on life support for some time now and all efforts at resuscitating it may soon prove futile.

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Consider for yourself what it means to live under the Constitution today.

The First Amendment is supposed to protect the freedom to speak your mind, assemble and protest nonviolently without being bridled by the government. It also protects the freedom of the media, as well as the right to worship. Despite its clear protections, Americans are being arrested for filming police officers, journalists are being prosecuted for reporting on whistleblowers, protesters are being tear-gassed, beaten, and arrested and under the guise of "government speech," the courts are allowing the government to discriminate freely against any First Amendment activity that takes place within a government forum.

The Second Amendment was intended to guarantee "the right of the people to keep and bear arms." Yet while gun ownership has been recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court as an individual citizen right, Americans remain powerless to defend themselves against SWAT team raids and government agents armed to the teeth with military weapons better suited for the battlefield. Just recently, North Dakota became the first state to legalize law enforcement use of drones armed with weapons such as tear gas, rubber bullets, beanbags, pepper spray and Tasers.

The Third Amendment prohibits the military from entering any citizen's home without "the consent of the owner." With the police increasingly training like the military, acting like the military, and posing as military forces--complete with military weapons, assault vehicles, etc.--it is clear that we now have what the founders feared most--a standing army on American soil.

The Fourth Amendment prohibits the government from conducting surveillance on you or touching you or invading you, unless they have some evidence that you're up to something criminal. Unfortunately, this amendment has suffered the greatest damage in recent years and been all but eviscerated by an unwarranted expansion of police powers that include strip searches and even anal and vaginal searches of citizens, surveillance and intrusions justified in the name of fighting terrorism, as well as the outsourcing of otherwise illegal activities to private contractors. The technological future with its armed surveillance drones appears to pose even greater threats to what's left of our Fourth Amendment rights.

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The Fifth Amendment and the Sixth Amendment work in tandem. These amendments supposedly ensure that you are innocent until proven guilty, and government authorities cannot deprive you of your life, your liberty or your property without the right to an attorney and a fair trial. However, in the new suspect society in which we live, where surveillance is the norm, these fundamental principles have been upended.

The Seventh Amendment guarantees citizens the right to a jury trial. Yet when the populace has no idea of what's in the Constitution--civic education has virtually disappeared from most school curriculums--that inevitably translates to an ignorant jury incapable of distinguishing justice and the law from their own preconceived notions and fears. Even so, the power of the jury to nullify the government's actions--and thereby help balance the scales of justice--is not to be underestimated.

The Eighth Amendment is supposed to protect the rights of the accused and forbid the use of cruel and unusual punishment. However, what constitutes "cruel and unusual" continues to evolve.

The Ninth Amendment provides that other rights not enumerated in the Constitution are nonetheless retained by the people. Popular sovereignty--the belief that the power to govern flows upward from the people rather than downward from the rulers--is clearly evident in this amendment. However, it has since been turned on its head by a centralized federal government that sees itself as supreme and which continues to pass more and more laws that restrict our freedoms under the pretext that it has an "important government interest" in doing so.

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John W. Whitehead is an attorney and author who has written, debated and practiced widely in the area of constitutional law and human rights. Whitehead's aggressive, pioneering approach to civil liberties has earned him numerous accolades and (more...)

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