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Patriot Games

Thomas Jefferson wrote that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. In many ways, we have abrogated that task to the various elements of our government; the politicians, the military and the courts. However, it was Jefferson’s intention to convey that it is that price was meant to be shouldered by the citizenry and that vigilance was meant to be directed towards those facets of our government.

In this era of terrorism and jihad, we have come to confuse security for freedom. Because we want to feel safe and secure, we have allowed our government to take enormous chunks out of our Constitution and chuck ‘em out the window. Suspected terrorists can be held without being charged or without legal representation. They can be held indefinitely. And, as we found out at Abu Gharib and Gitmo, they can be tortured and humiliated as well.

Your assets can be seized without warning, and without you even being charged with any criminal acts. You can be the target of electronic surveillance and your every conversation can be recorded without your knowledge or consent. If you use certain words with regularity in a cell phone conversation, your name can go on a list and your travel can be restricted. Your home or business can be searched without warning or without due process. Your personal information, from your medical history to your library check-out patterns can be seized and scrutinized. This is all perfectly legal, folks. The Patriot Act allows for all of this.

The Patriot Act was meant to have an expiration date. That was on December 31, 2005. Like a truly unwelcome houseguest, it refuses to go away. There are politicians who are eager to make this bill a permanent fixture in our law. The prospects of that are terrifying, to say the least.

Consider this scenario; the current definition of terrorism is acts of violence intended to cause injury and death to civilians in such a manner to inflict terror and panic on the population, or more simply, acts of terror as a means of coercion. What if that definition were to be broadened? What about, say, acts of intellectual terrorism? What if someone were to write an article that he felt that our capitalist system is corrupt and unfair and should be replaced? In the future, that could be considered an act of intellectual terrorism and be subject to the same investigative tactics as those meant to ferret out car bombers and airline hijackers.

For all intents and purposes, the Patriot Act is the first step towards creating a police state, a literal dictatorship. There are some who say that this has already occurred, that the 2% who control the overwhelming majority of wealth in this country have essentially seized power and have control of the legislative and judicial branches of our government, control through campaign funding. Why then, has Congress been so slow to repeal laws that deregulate wealth and corporate responsibility and so quick to vote to bail out banks who are on the brink of failure?

I’m all for security. I’m all for assisting law enforcement in finding and obstructing terrorist organizations and their operatives from injuring or killing innocent people. However, I don’t believe that throwing our Constitution out the window is the way to do that. Our Constitution is meant to extend its protection on all citizens, even those who are murderers and terrorists. If we set aside those protections, it says terrible things about ourselves as a people. If we don’t value their rights as much as we value our own, we don’t deserve those rights. We cannot set aside our values because they are inconvenient. That is the price we pay for our freedom, and sometimes that price is high indeed.

I’m not saying that we need to do away with Homeland Security (an ominously-named agency if ever I heard one) and airport security checkpoints. I am saying that suspects of terrorism should be subject to the same protections that suspects of arson, murder, embezzlement and robbery are. Everyone should be entitled to due process, and proper representation. While I hope it never comes to it, I believe that if the repealing of the Patriot Act costs lives, that is tragic and regrettable but necessary. Our freedom should have a high price my friends, and that price is that we may require our law enforcement to work harder within the same sets of limitations they must work within for any other crime.

Dostoyevsky wrote that the value of a society can be judged by how they operate their prisons. I’m sure he would have taken a keen interest in Abu Gharib and Guantanamo Bay. What I find alarming is how easily we’ve come to accept these offenses against our values as necessary to our common defense. When it came out that we were condoning torture of prisoners in military prisons that should have been it for Rumsfeld. Not only should he have been removed from his position, an investigation should have been underway from an unbiased non-partisan committee to see how much he knew and whether or not this problem was widespread. Heads should have rolled and prison sentences should have been carried out. We’re the country that is supposed to be the white hat-wearing good guy; we’re the ones who protect people from torture.

Where do our obligations lie as a country? Is protecting our citizens the paramount responsibility of our nation? As a matter of fact, it isn’t. Protecting our freedom, however, is. There is nothing more important than that. Don’t agree? Look at the history of our constitution. Some of our freedoms cost far more lives every day than any terrorist has ever dreamed of. We have the freedom to travel from place to place in cars, airplanes, trains, boats and motorcycles and yet more people die in a single week from these devices than have been killed by every terrorist act in the history of the world combined.

I get that we can’t just throw up our hands and allow terrorists to enter this country and plan – and execute – acts of barbaric violence. I’m not saying stop fighting terrorism. I’m just saying do it in a way that doesn’t make a mockery of our own values. Let’s do it the right way, and as we all know by now, the right way is never the easy way.

I’m sure not everyone who reads this will agree with me and I respect that. However, that still doesn’t dissuade me from saying that the Patriot Act is a reprehensible piece of legislation that needs to be repealed at the earliest possible opportunity and every American who values freedom and the American way of life should inform their representatives that they expect them to do that very thing. When our freedoms are abridged, when the apparatus for trampling our rights and establishing a police state are in place, the terrorists have done far more damage to our country than any wild-eyed fanatic with a bomb strapped to his chest could ever do.


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