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We're From the Government....

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We're from the government ...

... and we're here to take away your freedom -- forever BY JOHN SUGG

The Men in Black came for Gerry Weber last week. Weber -- who isn't an alien but who dabbles in a concept totally alien to the Bush regime, liberty -- was giving a speech at Georgia Tech when guys in shades and dark suits grabbed him and hauled him off. No explanation, no reading him his rights, no phone call to a lawyer, no public record of his detention -- just a vanishing act.

Did he land in one of Guantanamo's cages or somewhere else in America's new political gulag? Has he been summarily executed by a military tribunal? Is he being tortured?

Was it the books Weber checked out at the library that did him in? Was it that he marched in a demonstration that disrupted traffic? Or did the government have no reason -- other than that it didn't like Weber?

"It is just that bad," Weber laughed after his "detention." "In times of crisis, the country takes steps it later regrets. That's what is happening now."

OK, it was only a little theater, starring the legal director of the Georgia ACLU and intended to illustrate the civil libertarians' warnings that our rights are threatened. It's a clear and present danger. And it's not Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein who have our liberties in their gun sights; it's George Bush and John Ashcroft.

Weber came back. But rights and people are disappearing in America. They might never return.

And hardly anyone is noticing. Or, they're afraid to say what they see. The pathetic Atlanta Journal-Constitution, for example, on May 9 reduced efforts to end repressive laws to the level of an intra-mural squash tourney titled "Senators cut deal on anti-terror measures." Then, two days later, the paper's editorial section promised an in-depth look at plans to expand the government's assault on liberty -- but delivered more of the "he says it's good, but that other guy says it's bad" pabulum.

I do a Tuesday talk show on WALR 1340 AM with aspiring right-wingnuts Mike Rose and Martha Zoller. When I recently pummeled Rose and Zoller about their silence of the attacks on liberties, they chimed in unison, "John, this is war. No one's rights are really being taken away."

Oh?

Tell that to Mike Hawash. The Intel employee was on his way to his Portland, Ore., home two months ago. Federal agents armed with assault rifles surrounded him in his company's parking lot -- while other heavily armed G-men were terrorizing his wife and three small children. Hawash, a U.S. citizen for 15 years with a spotless and commendable record in the community, has been held in solitary confinement since he was fed-napped.

As salon.com reported: "He has not been charged with any crime, and there has not been any suggestion that he committed one. The Justice Department says Hawash is a witness, but it won't say to what. It won't say what information it wants from him, it won't say what agents were hoping to find when they searched his house, it won't say why he needs to be in custody and it won't say how long it plans to keep him there."

Hawash's story is being repeated around the nation. This is America? If so, it isn't the society envisioned by Tom Jefferson, Tom Paine and their pals.

Long before Mohammed Atta and his colleagues flew jetliners into the twin towers, the government had drafted its draconian assault on civil liberties. That's not a disputed fact, although it's neglected in most reporting of what has been egregiously misnamed the USA Patriot Act.

Bush, as you'll recall, claimed (falsely as it turned out) that he had no prior intelligence of a possibly imminent and likely horrific terrorist attack. If he was telling the truth (which he wasn't, although that wouldn't become evident until eight months after 9-11), Congress and the media might have questioned how the law was so speedily cobbled together. Actually, some were curious and some, including conservative Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, refused to support the Patriot Act because the 342-page bill wasn't even printed before the vote was called a mere 45 days after 9-11.

The Patriot Act has an interesting premise. It was described as an emergency measure and, to get congressional support, it included "sunset" provisions; in 2005, the extraordinary powers would end. That, of course, was a duplicitous Trojan horse. Once the law was passed, the Bush Republican Guard, notably Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, started calling for it to be permanent. With a sly wink, Hatch and his fellow travelers (are those brown shirts they're wearing under $200 power ties?) argue that the war on terrorism will never be over, so Patriot should be written in stone.

And what did the law do? It unleashed the government to indulge in all the spying and snooping on Americans that led to the horrible abuses in the 1960s and 1970s. The dirty tricks played by J. Edgar Hoover and his thugs on Martin Luther King Jr. were reborn. It doesn't matter that those who are victims aren't engaged in illegal acts. Something they say or someone they know is sufficient to summon Ashcroft's Thought Police.

Mixing Orwellian and biblical metaphors, Weber comments: "Big Brother has reached the level of Goliath."

On May 6, Natalia Taylor, a librarian at Georgia State, joined Weber and others at Tech for a Defense of the Bill of Rights Campaign pep rally. For her, the Patriot Act is a very real threat. The feds can demand the lists of books people read and the websites they visit on library computers. "And if we say anything, if we disclose what the government is doing, we can be arrested," Taylor says.

Most ominously, Patriot defined "domestic terrorism" so that dissent and civil disobedience could be targeted for repression.

The Bush regime has pushed secrecy to levels that warm the hearts of dictators. The government has refused to say how many people have been detained, how many people have been bugged and spied upon. When Congress members (including Republicans) have asked for routine statistical information on the law's impact, Ashcroft has thumbed his nose.

Now on the launching pad is something dubbed Patriot II or Son of Patriot. A collection of proposals that hadn't been intended for public consumption -- until too late for citizens to react -- it was leaked and initially made public by journalist Bill Moyers and the Center for Public Integrity. It would:

-- Put in jeopardy the most basic right of Americans, citizenship. The draft provides that any citizen, native-born or naturalized, who supports even the lawful activities of a group the government deems "terrorist" could be stripped of citizenship. There would be no judicial review.

-- Non-citizens -- including those stripped of citizenship -- could be deported for a wide variety of reasons, including some as vague as being a "threat" to the nation's economic interest. So, if you protested corporate crime or Halliburton cronyism, adios.

-- Suspected terrorists (which with Bush, means political threats) could be detained indefinitely and would have no way to get their case heard. The government wouldn't have to prove guilt. It wouldn't even have to offer any evidence beyond, "We say so, so shut up."

-- Secret arrests -- a favorite tactic of the Gestapo, the KGB, Fidel Castro, Saddam Hussein and other totalitarian regimes -- would become legal. What, you haven't seen Mr. Smith for a few days? Ssshhh, or they'll come and get you, too.

-- You don't want people to read your e-mail, so you encrypt it? You could be a criminal.

-- That sacred American tradition -- the right to sue if you're wronged -- would be history under Patriot II. The government and federal agents would be "immunized," no matter how hideous their abuse of constitutional rights.

-- Finally, the government's grab at information about you -- including your DNA -- would be elevated to a status unheard of in a democracy. You will be watched. The government -- without judicial oversight or the knowledge of those targeted -- could secretly go after your bank and credit reports, and phone records.

In short, say farewell to the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Eighth amendments to the Constitution.

None of this will make us safer. It will merely make us unfree.

Do something -- while you still can. About 100 local governments across the nation have passed resolutions opposing the usurpation of freedom by the Patriot Act and its diseased spawn, Patriot II. The Atlanta City Council is being asked by freedom-lovers ([email protected], www.acluga.org) to support a similar resolution. It declares that the city "affirms its strong opposition to terrorism, but also affirms that any effort to end terrorism should not be waged at the expense of essential civil rights and the liberties of the people of the United States."

Run that up the flag poll, and I'll salute it.

Senior Editor John Sugg -- who says, "Where's Keanu Reeves now that we have a real matrix of robotic government goons attacking our freedoms?" -- can be reached at 404-614-1241 or at [email protected].

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