Democratic Underground

Our Gravest Threats
November 17, 2001
by Eric Munoz

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"History teaches that grave threats to liberty often come in times of urgency, when constitutional rights seem too extravagant to endure." —Justice Thurgood Marshall, Skinner v. Railway Labor Executives' Assn. (1989)

Over the last two months, Americans have come together in a way that I have never experienced in my lifetime. Millions of concerned Americans desperately wanting to help flooded our blood banks, gave millions of dollars and displayed their unity proudly. Flags, banners and 'United We Stand' posters were everywhere. I do not remember ever feeling so proud of who we are in those days just after September 11. I fought back tears and tried to swallow that lump in my throat as I watched New York's Finest and Bravest put their lives on the line to rescue those they had sworn to protect and serve.

Our nation was shocked into the realization that individuals with such hatred and evil were capable of murdering thousands of innocents, thousands of ordinary people just like us. The urgency of defending ourselves has been magnified by the recent anthrax attacks and constant warnings issued by the Justice Department.

Now in this time of urgency, our greatest threats, those against our liberties, are receiving little fanfare and even less media attention. The Bush administration, without Congressional oversight, has issued orders and directives over the last several weeks that have grave implications for our rights and liberties.

First, the White House has decided to virtually ignore the 1978 Presidential Records Act by issuing an Executive Order that gives the sitting president the ability to block the release of Presidential documents after the 12 years prescribed by Congress. Ignoring the fact that this order was prompted by the scheduled release of documents from the Reagan administration, in which the President's father and much of the current administration were involved, it usurps the powers of Congress to pass laws, violates the system of checks and balances and the separation of powers. The Congress, as established in Article I of the Constitution, has the sole authority to write and pass laws. The president has the ability to veto those laws but cannot issue executive orders that trump those laws. The release of documents after a specified time period provides accountability for an office that answers to We the People as well as the Legislative and Judicial Branches. By choosing to block the release of Reagan's papers this administration is asserting that the Office of the President is accountable to no one. By consolidating legislative powers, by trumping an act of Congress, via the Executive Order, this administration is violating the principle of separation of powers.

Second, President Bush has issued a directive that gives sweeping authorization for covert operations to assassinate specified individuals. (Washington Post, October 28) The Bush administration has concluded that Executive Orders banning assassination do not preclude killing specific U.S. enemies. The president decides who that enemy is. If the president decides that the threat is internal, a US citizen, it appears that he can still issue a death warrant. If so, the 4th and 6th amendments, the right of people to be secure in their persons and the right to trial, become irrelevant. Again, the administration is seeking to consolidate powers into the Executive Branch not granted to it by the Constitution. To speak nothing of the hypocrisy given the Conservative Republican mantra of a strict interpretation of the Constitution vis--vis the Federal Government's power, this directive is plainly unacceptable.

Third, the administration, through the Justice Department, has decided to monitor the conversations between attorneys and their clients in federal custody—suspects, witnesses and detainees. (MSNBC, Nov. 9) To invade the confidentiality of an attorney and his client is tantamount to not allowing an attorney at all. The 5th amendment protects individuals from being witnesses against themselves and the 6th amendment guarantees that right to assistance by counsel. Neither of which matter if this decision stands.

Thurgood Marshall's dire warning reminds us that the gravest threats to our liberty come in times like we are in now. The liberties of life and freedom are being slowly stripped away under the guise of national defense and fighting terror. I can think of nothing more terrifying than the precedents being set by the current administration. I do not fear a 'big' government, but I do fear one that is not accountable.