Your Government

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by Brad Edmonds

    H.R. 3162, "The Patriot Bill," or the antiterrorism bill, might make you a terrorist. Any persons among us who have accepted that certain civil liberties must be abridged in time of war, or forever, for the sake of security, are going to learn Ben Franklin’s lesson the hard way: Those who would give up freedom for security deserve, and will get, neither.

    First, the antiterrorism bill so loved by Congress and the White House has redefined terrorism. According to Sec. 802, (a)(5)(B)(ii), "the term ‘domestic terrorism’ means activities that appear to be intended to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion." Again: If the activity appears to be intended to influence the policy of a government – not just the United States government – by intimidation, it’s domestic terrorism. Most important: Since all we require is intimidation, how would we define that?

    "Intimidation" does not seem to be defined in H.R. 3162. We thus must turn to authoritative dictionaries, which say such things as "to make timid." Put it in the hands of a trial lawyer, and here’s how it could play out: Have you ever felt intimidated by someone smarter, larger, older, wealthier, higher in rank, more attractive, more physically fit, more passionate, or more popular than yourself? That’s all it takes to establish intimidation in court – being made timid. Get a jury or judge to buy your version of events, and you win.

    So while intimidation is a weak criterion, far too easy to establish in a court of law, you don’t even have to establish anyone’s intent to intimidate, much less his success at intimidating someone. You, the prosecutor, have to establish only the appearance of the intention to intimidate any government, and you can try anyone for domestic terrorism.

    So, those of us who disagree publicly with the government’s responses to 9/11 – especially if our disagreements are reasoned, well-supported, and impassioned – are, by definition, terrorists. The only requirement is that someone, somewhere believes it appears we’re trying to intimidate the government. This is an ominous glower over free speech.

    How ominous? It depends in part on whether you’re a foreigner. Suppose a Canadian citizen writes an anti-war column for an American website. Bush signed an executive order on Tuesday, November 13, which allows for any foreigner connected to the events of 9/11 to be tried by military tribunal. This means, among other things, that the trials can be held in secret, defendants do not get the usual protections (such as an extended appeals process), the death penalty is an option, and Bush decides who is tried. If the notion of "connected" is as vague and potentially encompassing as the definition of "domestic terrorism" mentioned above, all foreigners who speak out in disagreement with the US government might have reason to fear suspicion with regard to 9/11.

    Remember that foreigners aren’t alone – H.R. 3162 applies to everyone. Foreigners are singled out only in Bush’s executive order. The only difference between foreigners and citizens is the option of the military tribunal.

    We’ve all heard how new laws won’t function in unintended ways: The Civil Rights Act wouldn’t result in hiring quotas; the Americans with Disabilities Act wouldn’t result in costly and ridiculous lawsuits (such as the Supreme Court deciding the rules of golf); and the Endangered Species act wouldn’t threaten property rights.

    With such unintended consequences being the rule rather than the exception, be careful not to complain about the amount of your Social Security check or tax liability. Don’t complain about emissions regulations. Don’t complain about anything the government says or does. According to the definitions in H.R. 3162, your speech (especially if it’s cogent) need only criticize the government, and you could stand accused of domestic terrorism.

Permission to Reprint granted by Brad Edmonds.

Reprinted With Permission

Brad Edmonds, MS in Industrial Psychology, Doctor of Musical Arts, is a banker in Alabama.