[sixties-l] Rescuing the Constitution by Nat Hentoff (fwd)

From: sixties@lists.village.virginia.edu
Date: Mon Dec 17 2001 - 18:06:00 EST

  • Next message: Jim Retherford: "Re: [sixties-l] pork chop nationalism"

    ---------- Forwarded message ----------
    Date: Mon, 17 Dec 2001 14:48:15 -0800
    From: radtimes <resist@best.com>
    Subject: Rescuing the Constitution by Nat Hentoff

    Rescuing the Constitution

    by Nat Hentoff

    http://www.NewsandOpinion.com --

    AT the start of both the civil rights and anti-Vietnam-war movements, a
    majority of Americans did not support either campaign. But, through
    teach-ins and other educational projects -- from newspaper ads to marches
    on Washington -- the direction of the nation was changed.

    The odds against similar organized national opposition to the Bush
    administration's weakening of the Constitution, particularly the Bill of
    Rights, are much longer than they were in the 1960s. Not only do polls show
    overwhelming public support for the diminishing of civil liberties; but
    Congress -- except for a few vocal constitutionalists -- is not going to
    vigorously exercise its oversight powers over John Ashcroft and the Justice

    As Democrat John Dingell, a longtime, influential member of the House, told
    the Dec. 5 New York Times, "I hear a lot of members saying they're
    concerned, but not many willing to say it publicly." There is insistent
    public opposition from civil libertarians, both on the left and the right;
    but the attorney general's often unilateral, scorched-earth approach to the
    Bill of Rights takes on new dimensions so frequently that his critics have
    been able only so far to react.

    There hasn't been time to organize pressure nationwide so that Congress
    will awaken to the separation of powers that is at the core of our system
    of governance. A new addition to John Ashcroft's war on both terrorism and
    our Constitution is his plan -- under the expanded surveillance powers in
    the USA Patriot Act -- to reintroduce a current version of COINTELPRO
    (Counterintelligence Operation). From 1956 to 1971, the FBI not only
    monitored religious and political groups purportedly linked to Communist
    operations, but the bureau also infiltrated and disrupted these organizations.

    Among the FBI's targets were anti-war, civil rights and black nationalist
    groups, along with various liberal organizations that opposed certain
    government foreign policies. The Communist Party itself was, of course,
    included. But, as a reporter throughout that period, I can attest that many
    of the COINTELPRO probes were directed at entirely lawful groups and
    individuals without any ties to Communism. Finally, in 1975, the Senate
    Select Committee on Intelligence Activities (the Church Committee) began to
    hold hearings and otherwise investigate COINTELPRO.

    The committee concluded that this FBI operation was "a sophisticated and
    vigilante program aimed squarely at preventing the exercise of First
    Amendment rights of speech and association, on the theory that preventing
    the growth of dangerous groups and the propagation of dangerous ideas would
    protect the national security and deter violence."

    The Church Committee (named for Idaho Sen. Frank Church, its chairman)
    added: "The American people need to be reassured that never again will an
    agency of the government be permitted to conduct a secret war against those
    citizens it considers threats to the established order." But a Dec. 3 Wall
    Street Journal story headlined "Justice Department Considers Stepping Up
    Monitoring of Religious, Political Groups" reported that the FBI will,
    under this proposal, no longer be held to "Justice Department regulations
    requiring agents to show probable cause that a crime was afoot before
    spying on political or religious organizations."

    Those regulations were put in place after the Church Committee exposed the
    FBI's disgraced COINTELPRO record. On a Dec. 2 episode of ABC's "This
    Week," Attorney General John Ashcroft not only did not deny the advent of a
    new COINTELPRO, but stoutly maintained that he will pursue whatever has to
    be done in the war against terrorism. He doesn't need congressional
    approval for this assault on the First and Fourth Amendments.

    During what passed for a congressional debate on Ashcroft's anti-terrorism
    bill, the American Civil Liberties Union organized a Coalition in Defense
    of Freedom in Time of National Crisis.

    Opposing parts of that bill, which became law, was the largest array of
    civil liberties organizations I have ever seen -- from left to right and
    center. Included were: The Center for Constitutional Rights; the Free
    Congress Foundation; the American Friends Service Committee; Gun Owners of
    America; the NAACP Board of Directors; the Rutherford Institute; and
    Amnesty International USA. If enough of these groups -- and individuals
    also intent on rescuing constitutional rights -- can move from reacting to
    organize a national coalition, Congress can be moved to act before, as
    Republican Congressman Bob Barr says, "This massive suspension of civil
    liberties ... will likely set precedents that will come back to haunt us


    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Mon Dec 17 2001 - 18:32:15 EST