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“Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness. … The first is a patron, the last a punisher.”

?Thomas Paine, “Common Sense”

Every government official has told us from the president down that this “war on terrorism” will be long. How long no one dares speculate. However, embracing the admonition of George Santayana about learning from history, consider that the wars waged by Spain against the Moors constituted a continual crusade from the 11th to the 16th century.

The well deserved and appropriate controversy over the ill named “Patriot Act” highlights and validates my oft-spoken refrain of “It’s not who is right or wrong but what is right or wrong that matters.”

In a recent forum sponsored by the Atlanta chapter of the Federal Bar Association, panelists unanimously stated steps taken in the name of protecting Americans from terrorists were in fact treading on cherished liberties.

A panel of strange bedfellows from Congressman Bob Barr to ACLU President Nadine Strossen has condemned legal restrictions adopted by the Bush administration and Congress after Sept. 11.

This war on terrorism isn’t a Hollywood remake of Crusades that started in 1095 and fizzled centuries later.

The Crusades were expeditions undertaken, in fulfillment of a solemn vow. “Crusaders were also granted indulgences and temporal privileges, such as exemption from civil jurisdiction, inviolability of persons or lands, etc.”

If you don’t understand “indulgences and temporal privileges” all you need do is check out the Patriot Act.

What are we fighting this war on terrorism for? If it is to protect the United States and the essence of America (the pre-Lincoln concept of America), that essence is delineated in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Remember all our leaders, policy makers, soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen, who are doing the actual for real fighting, have sworn an oath to
“preserve and protect the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic. …”

If or when we as a nation (for any reason) undermine, abrogate and ignore the key components of what we claim to be the nation, then we are either hypocrites or ignorant sheep being led.

In my Nov. 26 column, “A crisis of faith”, I scratched the surface of the problem.

Before the tragedy of 9-11 – in fact the day before – I wrote a column about the hobbled First Amendment. Although that column predated the 2001 Patriot Act, it warned of the potential threat to freedom and liberty. I wrote then that, despite very specific prohibitive language which states, “Congress shall make no law,” Congress has in fact passed laws, which were specifically designed and intended to restrict freedom of speech and press.

The Patriot Act and associated presidential executive orders annoyingly resemble the product of the 1798 Alien and Sedition Acts.

When President Lincoln tried civilians in military courts during the Civil War, the Supreme Court noted, “The history of the world had taught them that what was done in the past might be attempted in the future.”

Sentiments expressed at the Atlanta forum indicate the future has arrived:

  • Congressman Barr said Congress acted in haste without thinking through the consequences of the Patriot Act. He’s right. But hey, it’s not the first or last time Congress knee-jerked us into unconstitutional oppression. And don’t buy into the stroke that this bad law expires in four years (Congress can and will reauthorize it). “Power taken by the government is rarely returned,” Barr said, and, again, he’s right.

  • U.S. Magistrate Judge G. Mallon Faircloth of the Middle Georgia District disallowed a ban “due to the national emergency” against a peaceful demonstration by protesters at what was known as the School of the Americas at Fort Benning. Faircloth’s ruling pointed out that war neither automatically adds to the government’s powers nor subtracts from the people’s rights.

  • Robert Friedman, head of Georgia State University’s Department of Criminal Justice, said it is just as important for the U.S. to police its freedoms as police terrorism.

  • Conrad Fink, journalism professor at the University of Georgia, lamented not only that the U.S. government is operating without the slightest regard for the public’s right to know the way it is fighting the war on terror, here or abroad, but additionally that the public is all too complacent about being in the dark.

Personally I am less concerned with Professor Fink’s heartburn over the public’s “right to know” how we fight the war (strategy and tactics should not be broadcast) than I am with the apparent apathy of Americans about being treated like mushrooms – kept in the dark and fed a load of manure.

Frederick Douglass once said, “The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppose.”

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