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Orlando Sentinel

U.S. A Police State In The Making

By Myriam Marquez

August 18, 2002
Copyright © 2002 Orlando Sentinel. All rights reserved.

We are fighting a war against terrorism to defend American values of truth, liberty and justice. That's how President George W. Bush sold this war to us after the horror of Sept. 11.

In those first days after The Reckoning, as a shocked nation grieved, the president held back tears and his lips quivered as he hung up the phone after check on recovery efforts in New York. "I'm a good guy," he said, and we believed him.

Americans of all creeds and backgrounds stood shoulder to shoulder. We had good and right on our side -- and yet some of us had healthy doubts about this war against enemies unknown.

As much as I lauded Bush, I wrote a few days after the attack that I feared this war on terrorism could turn into a war against the very rights that America's Founding Fathers fought to secure against tyranny. Now, almost a year later, my fears have proven to be a painful reality.

In this nation of laws, based on the separation of powers, on the checks and balances of each branch of government, we have a police state in the making. To say that this war is so unique as to demand the dismantling of basic constitutional protections, as Attorney General John Ashcroft maintains, goes against everything our young people in military service risk their lives for. It goes against the very core of what it means to be an American, and it clearly goes against the Constitution.

We have the right to know what the government's charges are against us. We have a right to an attorney. We are innocent until proven guilty. We are protected from illegal searches and seizures. Or so we thought.

The cases of two Americans accused of terrorism puts us on notice. The two men -- Jose Padilla of Puerto Rican descent and Yaser Esam Hamdi, who was born in Louisiana and raised in Saudi Arabia -- are being held in solitary confinement, without access to lawyers, even without official charges filed against them. They are being treated as military combatants under a system in which the rules keep changing.

Federal Judge Robert G. Doumar has become so frustrated by the assaults on the Constitution in the Hamdi case that he blasted government lawyers last week for not producing any evidence. "I have no desire to have an enemy combatant get out," Doumar said, "but due process requires something other than a declaration (by a Defense Department official) that he should be held incommunicado. Isn't that what we're fighting for?"

Many members of Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, are asking that question, too. Yet the Justice Department has refused to turn over information to Judiciary panels that are looking at the ramifications of the misnamed "Patriots Act." For instance, how many times has Justice obtained authority for roving surveillance? Ashcroft says that's classified, and the only ones who can know are members of Intelligence committees that meet behind closed doors.

That kind of secrecy has nothing to do with national security and everything to do with the type of power grabs third-rate dictators demand. The U.S. Supreme Court inevitably will have to decide.

This isn't a matter of Bush being a good guy or not. We all want to get the bad guys. But we can't pretend to be the "good guys" if our government is willing to spit on basic rights and shred our Constitution in the name of justice.

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