December 15 is Bill of Rights Day. It marks the 216th anniversary of the ratification of the first ten amendments to the Constitution. Unfortunately the anniversary is neglected by most Americans for its historical significance. Even worse, our government neglects the Bill of Rights by violating it on a day-to-day basis.
The Bill of Rights limits the power of the government and protects the rights of the people. It was so important that several of the original 13 states would not ratify the Constitution without it.
Nearly everything that makes an American proud to be one comes from the Bill of Rights.
Freedoms to speak, print, read, assemble, pray, petition the government, keep and bear arms. Protection from unreasonable arrests and searches, excessive bail, double jeopardy, coerced confessions, cruel and unusual punishment. Rights to due process, jury trials, counsel, and to present defense witnesses. These are the freedoms and rights that define America.
The Bill of Rights was meant to ensure basic rights during times of war and times of peace, regardless of who is in power. In order to ensure its future, we must keep using the First Amendment and speaking out when our rights and the rights of non-citizens are threatened.
Seven years of President Bush have probably done more harm to the freedoms in the Bill of Rights than this country has seen in thirty, maybe even fifty years. Nearly everything the government does today is unconstitutional under the system they instituted. Under the Bill of Rights, governmental powers were expressly limited; individual liberties were not. Now it seems it is the other way around.
American Civil Liberty Union’s list of top abuses of power since 9/11 in the name of national security provides an insight into the Bills of Rights violations by the Bush administration:
1. Warrantless Wiretapping: In December 2005, the New York Times report shocked Americans to know that the National Security Agency was tapping into their telephone calls without a warrant, in violation of federal statutes and the Constitution. Furthermore, the agency had also gained direct access to the telecommunications infrastructure through some of America's largest companies. The program was confirmed by President Bush and other officials, who boldly insisted, that the program was legal. On December 12, 2007, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court rejected ACLU’s petition to release documents on the legal status of the government’s “war-on-terror” wiretap operations.
2. Torture, Kidnapping and Detention — In the years since 9/11, our government has illegally kidnapped, detained and tortured numerous prisoners. The government continues to claim that it has the power to designate anyone, including Americans as "enemy combatants" without charge. Since 2002, some "enemy combatants," have been held at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere, in some cases without access by the Red Cross.
3. The Growing Surveillance Society — In perhaps the greatest assault on the privacy of ordinary Americans, the country is undergoing a rapid expansion of data collection, storage, tracking, and mining. The FBI's Investigative Data Warehouse, as an example, has grown to over 560 million records. Over and above the invasion of privacy represented by any one specific program, a combination of new technologies, expanded government powers and expanded private-sector data collection efforts is creating a new “surveillance society” that is unlike anything Americans have seen before.
4. The Patriot Act Abuse— Several provisions of the Patriot Act were set to expire at the end of 2005 and, despite opposition from across the political spectrum and more than 400 community and state resolutions expressing concern about the Patriot Act, Congress reauthorized the law without reforming its most flawed provisions to bring these extraordinary powers back in line with the Constitution. Since then, the Justice Department's Inspector General found that the FBI has issued hundreds of thousands of national security letters, a majority against U.S. persons, and many without any connection to terrorism at all.
5. Government Secrecy — The Bush administration has been one of the most secretive and nontransparent in our history. The Freedom of Information Act has been weakened , the administration has led a campaign of reclassification, increased secrecy by federal agencies and has made sweeping claims of "state secrets" to stymie judicial review of many of its policies that infringe on civil liberties. It even refused to grant government investigators the security clearances they needed to investigate the illegal and unconstitutional NSA wiretapping program.
6. Political Spying — Government agencies — including the FBI and the Department of Defense — have conducted their own spying on innocent and law-abiding Americans. Through the Freedom of Information Act, the ACLU learned the FBI had been consistently monitoring peaceful groups such Quakers, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Greenpeace, the Arab American Anti-Defamation Committee and, indeed, the ACLU itself.
7. Abuse of Material Witness Statute — In the days and weeks after 9/11, the government gathered and detained many people — mostly Muslims in the US — through the abuse of a narrow federal technicality that permits the arrest and brief detention of "material witnesses," or those who have important information about a crime. Most of those detained as material witnesses were never treated as witnesses to the crimes of 9/11, and though they were detained so that their testimony could be secured, in many cases, no effort was made to secure their testimony.
8. Attacks on Academic Freedom — The Bush administration has used a provision in the Patriot Act to engage in a policy of "censorship at the border" to keep scholars with perceived political views the administration does not like out of the United States. Additionally, government policies and practices have hampered academic freedom and scientific inquiry since 9/11, creating a system where science has come under siege.
If you are not convinced, here is another take about the looming violation of the Bill of Rights: