Posted 6:50 P.M. MDT 10/27/01

President George W. Bush

U.S.A. Patriot Act Unleashes Federal Police Against Evildoers

Former Officer Warns of Danger Ahead

    President Bush signed a broad antiterrorism bill into law on Friday which will grant the federal government sweeping new powers in the so-called war against terrorism. Dubbed "The U.S.A. Patriot Act of 2001," this law gives broader powers to federal agencies to utilize roving telephone wiretaps, listen to voice mail, monitor internet activity and e-mail, and detain suspects for a longer period of time before they are charged. It also provides the CIA with domestic subpoena powers for the first time.

    A significant part of this new law pertains to financial activity, giving "better tools to put an end to financial counterfeiting, smuggling and money-laundering," the President said at his signing ceremony. This will give the government increased powers to track financial transactions and seize property and funds deemed to be connected to illicit activity.

    On Thursday Attorney General John Ashcroft promised as soon as the bill was signed there would be a law enforcement offensive as vigorous as Robert F. Kennedy's against organized crime 40 years ago. A "guidance paper" will be sent to all U.S. attorneys and F.B.I. field offices nationwide to direct them to implement the sweeping antiterrorism law immediately.

    "This unleashes us to pursue these cases to the fullest measure," one senior Justice Department official told the LA Times. "We could literally deploy within minutes."

    It is interesting to note that the "Patriot Act" passed the Senate 98-1, a margin similar to the use of force resolution passed in the wake of September 11.

    "This government will enforce this law with all the urgency of a nation at war," Bush said. It "is essential not only to pursuing and punishing terrorists, but also preventing more atrocities in the hands of the evil ones."

    I had to smile just after September 11 when President Bush promised to "rid the world of evil doers." A clumsy use of rhetoric by a speech writer, I thought. But as the President continues to speak against "evil doers" and "evil ones" perpetrating "acts of evil," it becomes evident that this war is not against law breakers, such as the hijackers of September 11 and their supporters, but whoever is deemed to be "evil," or on the side opposite of those who are "good."

    "Is the evil one hiding from us in Afghanistan?" Bush asked a business audience on Friday. "We don't know yet. But we do know the evil one who hides thinks in ways that we can't possibly think in America -- so destructive, such a low regard for human life."

    I remember when I used to look at the world through such glasses. A number of years ago I was a police officer in a large department. My job, or so I thought, was to protect the "good people" from the "bad people," and civil liberties were a basic hindrance that gave the "bad people" an advantage against the "good people." Looking back I can see that much of my time was spent finding technical avenues around civil liberties -- for good reasons, of course -- and I never would have described it in those terms at the time.

    For example, if officers smelled a strange chemical smell coming from a house, and we suspected a drug lab, we could enter the dwelling without a search warrant if we called the fire department. It was called "exigent circumstances," and the presence of a fire engine proved that we believed the chemicals could cause an explosion, even though that wasn't really a concern. It was just a legal loophole for us to enter without a warrant.

    But it was for a good reason, and there was no personal gain involved. It just gave us an advantage against the "bad guys," and often there was a drug lab inside anyway.

    But sometimes it went further than that. Sometimes officers would adjust their reports for "CYA" (cover yourself) purposes, perhaps to justify use of force but sometimes to legitimize a search that was illegal. For example, an officer detained a man and rummaged through his pockets and found a small amount of drugs. He had no "probable cause" to justify the search, but in his report he indicated the man threw the drugs down on the ground before he detained him.

    In that particular state it was a felony to carry a "dangerous weapon" such as a black jack, throwing star or baton in your car. One officer retrieved a short, cylindrical wooden handle from the back of a car he had stopped. He asked another officer if it would qualify as a "baton," and the reply was, "No, it needs a handle. Here is some electrical tape. Give it a handle." And it was right because the guy driving the car was a "low life," a "dirt bag," a "known burglar" and so forth. Good vs. evil. The end justifies the means.

    After giving my heart to Christ I left that profession and gradually stopped seeing the world in shades of black and white. I gained a new appreciation for the legal restraints placed on law enforcement by the Bill of Rights, by inquiring defense attorneys and honest judges. They, like the separation of powers, seemed well adapted to restrain the overbearing impulses that are inherent to human nature.

    I still hold the law enforcement profession in high regard. I believe most of them want to do what is right, just as I did. But when "right" becomes a flag or a government, us vs. them, good vs. evil, rather than the rule of law equally applied to all human beings, well-meaning people are capable of horrible things.

"War on Terror" Has Dark Overtones

    There is no universally recognized definition for "terrorism." It is a subjective word that seems to have more of a political meaning than anything else. And with the F.B.I being restructured to focus on "counter terrorism," we can't but wonder if their true focus will be "crimes" of a political nature.

    Since September 11 we have seen the branches of government, which formerly provided a restraint for one another, unite and plunge into the battle to "rid the world of evil." This may be typical of war time, you say, but we have never been in a war like this before. And as of yesterday the federal police have been "unleashed" to pursue evil doers and bring them to justice, perhaps as they did the Branch Davidians near Waco, Texas.

    The destruction of evidence, the falsification of reports, the obstruction of justice that occurred during and after the standoff at Mt. Carmel was typical of police agencies that are steeped in the elitist mentality of "we're good and anyone opposed to us is evil." This enabled them to justify a military-style assault to win what they obviously considered a "no holds barred" war against evil doers, and raise a BATF battle flag over the ashes of the conquered. Destroying problematic evidence was necessary to support the overall "goodness" of their cause.

Mt. Carmel on fire

    Congress and the courts refused to exorcize the demons of Waco from the executive branch, and now these are "unleashed" in still greater power on an unsuspecting nation.

    A central philosophy of war is the use of "any means necessary," whether it be a "war on crime," a "war on drugs," or a "war on terror." It essentially means that the importance of victory always supersedes the human cost of achieving it. That's why Bush said, "This government will enforce this law with all the urgency of a nation at war."

    This "war against evil" demonstrates the nation's departure from its legal tradition and constitutional moorings. Therefore it should be regarded as a revolution -- introduced from top down. It would be well for us to remember that during times of revolution, the definition of evil is very fluid, and suspicion metastasizes. Today it is foreigners of Middle Eastern descent that disappear in a federal sweep. Tomorrow "ultra-right wing constitutionalists" may be blamed for the spread of anthrax. Any one of us may find ourselves on the wrong side, at any time.

    On September 12 commentator Bill Bonner broadcast a poem entitled "The Dark Years" with the following lines that seemed to speak to the times we are in:

...behind the doors of this ambitious day
stand shadows with enormous grudges,
outside its chartered ocean of perception
misshapen coastguards drunk with foreboding....

Summer was worse than we expected;
Now an Autumn cold comes on the water...

    He closed his article with the following sentence: "A strange darkness has settled over the World...a new era, finally, has come."

    I felt that dark chill on September 11. From the horror of two landmark buildings destroyed and thousands killed arose a specter of something even more grim to come. When I read some of the details of the "Patriot Act," and saw the President's fist raised as he urged us to "plant the flag of freedom more firmly in the nation and the world," I could only think of the following verse from the Book of Revelation:

"Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time." Rev. 12:12

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