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An Open Letter to Attorney General Mukasey

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Dear Attorney-General Mukasey:

It is my understanding that the government now plans to collect DNA from anyone who is arrested by federal law enforcement, and that the samples will be stored in an effort to reduce violence in our society. Moreover, the U.S. government reportedly now intends to take a cheek swab from foreigners we detain, whether they've been charged or not.

While Congress may have authorized Justice to expand DNA outreach, as citizens, and taxpayers, we're entitled to know what your intentions are.

The concept of DNA collection is, in itself, not a heinous thing. Indeed, if science were to be used to combat wrongful conviction instead of setting up a blueprint for pursuing future incarceration, then I would be a strong proponent of taking DNA samples from everyone who is arrested, and storingthe samples.

But, instead, the database in which the DNA will be stored, CODIS, may one day be a holding cell for vital genetic information, as well as familial associations which may be used against a defendant in a court of law.

As one has no more control over one's genetic blueprint than over the weather, the potential for misuse of this information is staggering. Further, what entitlement does our government have to collect, and store, the DNA of foreigners?


Unfortunately, we do not live in the kind of world in which evidence is used to exculpate people, but one in which it is routinely gathered to incriminate. After all, the U.S. now has the dubious distinction of having the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world; fully 10% of our population is imprisoned.

Clearly, too, the Justice Department and the National Security Agency aren't fine tuning ways to immunize telecommunication companies who eavesdrop on ordinary, and innocuous domestic phone calls as a means of preventing citizens from being ripped off by their credit card, or mortgage, companies.

So, one is understandably cynical when learning of plans by federal law enforcement to take swabs of DNA from those merely arrested, not convicted, of a crime.

Alarming, isn't it, how the concept of privacy, as we once knew it, has now become to modern America what speaking Latin is in Italy--antiquated, and irrelevant. The consequence of this state-sanctioned invasion of privacy is the stuff of Greek tragedy, without a doubt, and the aftershocks of governmental intrusion continue to be felt,and will doubtless outlive the tenure of whoever next occupies the White House.

We have not only descended into a moral maelstrom, but a legal morass. The current administration has rendered the Constitution, once a great document, a vestigial organ, and just another victim of conspicuous consumption.

On your watch, sir, the Eighth Amendment was ravaged with respect to your reluctance to classify waterboarding as torture, and with the Supreme Court's recent decision on lethal injection. Is there a connection? You know, there is. There is a mindset that threatens the foundation upon which the framers built the Bill of Rights, and you, sir, have succumbed to it. How can we not expect you to defer to those who would further compromise the First Amendment by nullifying an implied right to privacy.

And, for what it’s worth, if reducing violence in American society is what’s most desired, then I submit we withdraw all troops from Iraq, as soon as possible, for what kind of role model do we set for our youth when we invade, occupy, and plunder a sovereign country?

If, and when, the machinery of state may come to be used in such a way that it ensures economic equity, and to obviate social, and political disenfranchisement, DNA samples may be used to protect innocent men and women from rotting away behind bars, or falling prey to lethal injection.

Until then, we must proceed with caution, and do with the DNA samples of those under arrest what was done with millions of White House e-mails in the lead-up to the war in Iraq---namely, destroy them. Whatever is left of our freedom may depend on it.

 

http://ladyjaynestahl.blogspot.com

Widely published, poet, playwright, essayist, and screenwriter; member of PEN American Center, and PEN USA. Jayne Lyn Stahl is a Huffington Post blogger.

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Now that they will have your DNA upon arrest they ... by Gallaher on Sunday, May 11, 2008 at 7:53:09 PM
It is more than one percent of our adult popu... by Pat Williams on Monday, May 12, 2008 at 10:10:01 AM
The question is, will it fall on deaf ears? Most l... by shirley reese on Monday, May 12, 2008 at 11:11:36 AM