Prominent neo-conservatives urge the Bush administration to criminalize speech
-- and even private thoughts -- that supposedly "encourage" terrorists.
"Terrorism must be crushed with an iron fist," snarls legal analyst
Bruce Fein in an August
9 Washington Times op-ed column. This is why the United States "should
follow the instruction of Great Britain in punishing speech likely to motivate
terrorism," he contends. The Bush administration "should propose legislation
making criminal the condoning or glorifying of terrorism against the United
States whether uttered domestically or abroad." The threshold for government
action, Fein asserts, should be "reasonable suspicion" of "sympathy
Note well that Fein, a Reagan-era Justice Department official, isn’t
urging the enforcement of laws covering criminal conspiracy, or even the public
expression of "subversive" sentiments, but the suspicion of harboring
such sentiments. And he would relieve the federal government of the responsibility
of drawing a plausible connection between those suspected sentiments and an
actual terrorist conspiracy. "The correlation between excusing or justifying
or championing terrorism and the creation of terrorists is not absolute,"
he admits. "But it is sufficiently close to justify punishing the encouragement."
Its inelegance of expression aside, Fein’s essay is a valuable contribution
to public understanding, since it is a splendid specimen of the totalitarian
mind at work. For those of that persuasion, the potentially lethal exercise
of state power is always and everywhere an unalloyed good; it is the exercise
of individual liberty that must be justified.
In this particular example, Fein is actually prescribing a standard of speech
that could require not only the suppression of dissent, but also the prosecution
of those who fail to express support for the Bush administration’s policy.
Would those who refuse to display a "Support the Troops" auto decal,
for example, be guilty of tacitly "excusing" or "condoning"
terrorism? Are those who supposedly undermine military morale by denouncing
the war in Iraq guilty of "encouragement" of terrorism?
Bruce Fein is not the only neo-conservative to endorse Great Britain’s
new restrictions on speech. John Gibson of Fox News, who
collapses into a girlish swoon at the thought of Britain’s counterterrorism
police, is similarly enraptured with this latest authoritarian gesture by
Tony Blair’s socialist government.
"Justifying or glorifying terrorism is an official offense in Great Britain
Gibson on August 5. "Good. About time. And if the speaker of terror
speech is already a Brit citizen, they’re going to put something called
a control order on you."
In the United States, Gibson whines, many people bridle over the invasive searches
performed at airports and in subways. In Great Britain, by way of contrast,
"they’re going to look inside your skull to see if you even think
about terrorists. I don’t hear much outcry even from the lefties."
Ironically, it was a British monarch, Queen Elizabeth I, who denounced the
practice of "tearing windows into men’s souls." Advocates of
democratic totalitarianism, on the other hand, see nothing amiss in peering
"inside your skull" in pursuit of impermissible thoughts. And John
Gibson has giddily endorsed the practice of pumping high velocity rounds into
the skulls of people who turn out to be perfectly innocent.
Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, who is among the most militant
proponents of a global democratic crusade, urges
the public to accept the state’s impositions with docility. When a
"liberal democratic society" is threatened, writes Krauthammer, it
"must deploy every resource, including the repressive powers of the state,
to deter and defeat those who would abolish liberal democracy."
Citing such repressive measures as Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus
and FDR’s internment of American citizens of Japanese ancestry, Krauthammer
blithely writes: "Our history is clear. We have not slid inexorably toward
police power. We have fluctuated between more and less openness depending on
need and threat. And after the 9/11 mass murders, America awoke to the need
for a limited and temporary shrinkage of civil liberties to prevent more such
Once again we see the totalitarian formula at work: liberties are to be rationed
as the state sees fit. Further, it’s hardly clear that the "shrinkage
of civil liberties" Krauthammer describes would be "temporary,"
in light of the fact that the Bush administration has claimed that the "war
on terror" (or whatever it’s called this week) could
last a generation or longer. And the powers claimed by the Bush regime to
detain, interrogate, and abuse innocent people are "limited" only
by the imagination of its legal advisers.
During an August 9 judicial hearing in Brooklyn, Justice
Department official Mary Mason argued (as paraphrased by the New York Times)
that "foreign citizens who change planes at airports in the United States
can legally be seized, detained without charges, deprived of access to a lawyer
or the courts, and even denied basic necessities like food."
All of those offenses were committed by the U.S. government against Canadian
citizen Maher Arar, who was seized at JFK International Airport in 2002, detained
incommunicado for weeks, then taken to Syria, where he was imprisoned and tortured
for nearly a year. Arar has never been charged with a crime by any government.
He has sued the Bush administration, which has invoked a spurious "state
secrets privilege" to justify its claim that it has "secret"
information tying him to al-Qaeda – this despite the fact, once again,
that he was freed without being charged.
According to Mason, "Arar’s legal status meant he was not necessarily
protected by all the rights in the U.S. Constitution." Here it is again
– the despotic notion that the government allots rights to individuals,
and can revoke them at whim. If the government decides that a passenger is an
"inadmissible alien," Mason argued (again, in the New York Times’
paraphrase), "he remains legally outside the United States – and
outside the reach of the Constitution – even if he is being held in a
Brooklyn jail. Even if they are wrongly or illegally designated inadmissible
… such aliens have at most a right against `gross physical abuse.’"
Presumably, refined physical abuse would pass "constitutional" scrutiny
under this standard, which supposedly permits the U.S. government to imprison,
starve, and consign to torture perfectly innocent people who come
into the United States legally, on the mistaken assumption that it remains a
free country. (I leave it to minds subtler than my own to reconcile the
Bush administration’s treatment of "inadmissible" legal aliens
like Arar with that same administration’s indecent eagerness to grant
amnesty to illegal aliens.) Nor is this treatment limited to foreign visitors,
since the Bush administration claims the right to designate American citizens
as "enemy combatants" and summarily imprison them without trial.
The Republican-aligned punditocracy has embraced the Bush administration’s
quasi-fascist claims of executive power. In doing so they display a dreadful
memory, and an even more dangerous lack of foresight.
Following the Oklahoma
City Bombing a decade ago, the Clinton administration accused talk radio
hosts like Rush Limbaugh of being "ideational co-conspirators" with
Timothy McVeigh and the others responsible for that crime. Bill Clinton himself
pointedly excoriated those who "think they can love their country but hate
their government," accusing them of abetting terrorism.
Just recently the National Abortion Rights Action League distributed –
and then withdrew – an advertisement accusing Supreme Court nominee John
Roberts of being an "ideational" co-conspirator with abortion clinic
And while Limbaugh and his lessers in the Bush administration’s propaganda
apparatus are hymning the virtues of a Republican-led Police State, the Southern
Poverty Law Center (led by the resourceful
fraud Morris Dees) and other leftist
"watchdog" groups continue to keep "right-wing extremists"
under scrutiny, patiently waiting their turn to wield the "Iron Fist"
being forged by the Bush administration.