I don’t feel the same as I did Sept. 10. From attending football games to reserving airline tickets to opening my mail, I and many other Americans feel threatened in a way we never have before.
Yet, I don’t feel differently on one subject — civil liberties.
America was founded on a tradition of protecting fundamental rights, such as freedom of religion and speech and due process through the courts.
These rights have been zealously protected in America. Interestingly, the few notable exceptions, such as Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus and the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, have often happened in times of war. Under the guise of keeping Americans safer, other Americans’ freedom has been taken away.
History is repeating itself under the Bush administration — national security has taken precedence over civil liberties. Already, immigrants from a host of countries, mainly the Middle East, will have to wait much longer to receive visas than immigrants from other countries.
Many Arab-Americans have been detained in jail while the Justice Department makes certain that they were not involved in the attacks of Sept. 11. Even worse, the Justice Department recently announced a new policy in which communications between lawyers and detainees will now be monitored by the department without judicial approval.
These measures will keep us safer, according to the administration.
I don’t feel any safer when the administration decides that those seeking visas from selected countries must wait many days longer to immigrate.
I don’t feel any safer when the Justice Department overrides the lawyer-client code of confidentiality, one of the basic tenets of our legal system.
I don’t feel any safer when courts racially profile Arab-Americans, detaining people who have no connection to the terrorist attacks.
What is even more disconcerting is the silence of many groups that previously faced similar treatment. A few years ago, after New Jersey and New York police were accused of pulling over black drivers and searching people for drug crimes based on race, the NAACP and other groups loudly condemned such actions.
Now, aside from a few congressmen, senators and civil liberties groups, most groups have remained silent. Racial profiling has become government policy.
I would feel much safer and more secure in a country that protected civil liberties, even in times of peril. And if we’ve decided that civil liberties need to be restricted, let’s do it universally rather than making arbitrary distinctions on whose rights should be taken away.
If Americans really feel unsafe, let’s check everyone’s visa, whether you’re from Australia, England or Saudi Arabia. John Ashcroft would say that this makes little sense. None of the terrorists has been from England and many from Saudi Arabia.
But imagine that you’re that person from Saudi Arabia who simply wants to study in the United States. You’re just as likely to commit a crime as a student coming from France, since the overwhelming odds are that neither of you will. But you’ll now be waiting much longer for your visa.
The Bush administration seems to be ignoring the recent history of World War II and other examples that demonstrate how abridging fundamental rights is a turn for the worst. Bush and Ashcroft seem to see an amendment in the Constitution that says that Congress, or the president, can make any law that in its view protects the citizens of the United States in times of war, national calamity or any other concern.
That’s not in my copy of the Constitution, and you shouldn’t feel any safer if John Ashcroft is rewriting yours by erasing the rights of some Americans.
Perry Bacon is a senior in Silliman College. He was features editor on the Yale Daily News Board of 2002.