Will America never learn?
a Political Piece by Dan Kotler
A lot of people lately have talked about "precedents" that supposedly justify President Bush's current dismantling of civil liberties. So here is a list describing some of the previous occasions when America has felt compelled to ignore our civil liberties, and how America has eventually come to its senses and reversed itself, generally ruing its past actions.
Will America never learn?
The Alien and Sedition Acts (1778) cracked down on non-citizens, made it harder to become a citizen, and curtailed free speech, leading to several arrests and fines and shutting down several prominent newspapers.
Opposition to the Alien and Sedition Acts fueled the election of Thomas Jefferson. "Once in office, Jefferson pardoned all those convicted under the Sedition Act, while Congress restored all fines paid with interest" (Folwell, "Laws of the U.S.," printed 1796).
Civil War: suspension of habeas corpus: During the Civil War, President Lincoln suspended habeas corpus, the right which requires the government to produce in court the body of any person in custody. The purpose of habeas corpus is to prevent unjust or illegal imprisonment.
In Ex Parte Merriman (1861) , Supreme Court Chief Justice Taney issued an order that the suspension of habeas corpus was unconstitutional without an act of Congress. Lincoln and the military ignored the ruling, and obtained such an act of Congress in 1863.
In 1866, in Ex Parte Milligan (1866), the Supreme Court reinstated habeas corpus, declaring such a suspension unconstitutional whenever civil courts are able to function. The case also declared that individuals not in the military could not be tried in military courts.
WWII: internment of Japanese-Americans: During WWII, the U. S. government interned approximately 120,000 American citizens and permanent residents in prison camps, solely on the basis of those individuals' Japanese ancestry. The government feared that the Japanese-Americans would aid an invasion by Japan.
In 1989, America formally apologized and paid reparations (Civil Liberties Act of 1988).
Cold War/Korean War: McCarthyism: Senator Joseph McCarthy, in conjunction with the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), led Congress on a massive witch hunt for communists, in the process destroying the lives of many Americans. Few people would employ or assist anyone once accused of communist sympathies, for fear of being branded a communist themselves.
The Senate formally censured McCarthy on Dec. 2nd, 1954, after which McCarthy's political influence evaporated.
The War on Terrorism: So far...
- Bush and his administration have detained over 1,000 people indefinitely without even releasing their names, never mind bothering to charge them.
- Bush has effectively voided the right to an attorney by announcing plans to eavesdrop on attorney/client conversations (one cannot speak freely with one's attorney when the government is listening in; one cannot have effective representation if one cannot speak freely with one's lawyer).
- Bush has authorized military tribunals for terrorism suspects. These would be secret trials with secret evidence (whatever rules of evidence and procedure Bush cares to invent), a jury hand picked by the government which only needs a two thirds vote to convict, and all the sentencing power of a civilian court, including the death penalty.
Demand your civil liberties!
Call or write President Bush and your Congresspeople today.
President Bush can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
at (202) 456-1414, and at:
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Congresspeople can be looked up at these websites:
or by asking at your nearest public library.
Learn more about your rights at:
The American Civil Liberties Union Website
thank you for listening.