Taking Liberties: The War on Terror and the Erosion of American Democracy

Taking Liberties: The War on Terror and the Erosion of American Democracy

Taking Liberties: The War on Terror and the Erosion of American Democracy

Taking Liberties: The War on Terror and the Erosion of American Democracy

Synopsis

In this eye-opening work, the president of the ACLU takes a hard look at the human and social costs of the War on Terror. A decade after 9/11, it is far from clear that the government's hastily adopted antiterrorist tactics - such as the Patriot Act - are keeping us safe, but it isincreasingly clear that these emergency measures in fact have the potential to ravage our lives - and have already done just that to countless Americans. From the Oregon lawyer falsely suspected of involvement with terrorism in Spain to the former University of Idaho football player arrested on the pretext that he was needed as a "material witness" (though he was never called to testify), this book is filled with unsettling stories of ordinary peoplecaught in the government's dragnet. These are not just isolated mistakes in an otherwise sound program, but demonstrations of what can happen when our constitutional protections against government abuse are abandoned. Whether it's running a chat room, contributing to a charity, or even urging a terrorist group to forego its violent tactics, activities that should be protected by the First Amendment can now lead to prosecution. Blacklists and watchlists keep people grounded at airports and strand American citizensabroad, although these lists are rife with errors - errors that cannot be challenged. National Security Letters allow the FBI to demand records about innocent people from libraries, financial institutions, and internet service providers without ever going to court. Government databanks now brim withinformation about every aspect of our private lives, while efforts to mount legal challenges to these measures have been stymied. Barack Obama, like George W. Bush, relies on secrecy and exaggerated claims of presidential prerogative to keep the courts and Congress from fully examining whether these laws and policies are constitutional, effective, or even counterproductive. Democracy itself is undermined. This book is awake-up call for all Americans, who remain largely unaware of the post-9/11 surveillance regime's insidious and continuing growth.

Excerpt

An acquaintance, knowing of my position as president of the American Civil Liberties Union, asked me to tell her what the ACLU was doing these days. “But don’t tell me about that Guantánamo stuff,” she said. “I’m so sick of hearing about that. Why should I care about those people when they’re not even Americans?” I started to explain that the Patriot Act and other post-9/11 antiterrorism measures do affect Americans, including her, but she waved me off, insisting that all of that had nothing to do with her.

This woman is not alone is assuming that the War on Terror does not affect law-abiding Americans, or even that all “that Patriot Act stuff” ended when George W. Bush left the White House. But she is wrong. Her own rights and those of many other ordinary Americans—and even the democracy she takes for granted—are compromised by antiterrorism strategies unleashed after September 11, 2001. She could be one of the hundreds of thousands of innocent Americans the FBI has been spying on using the broad net of the Patriot Act and supplemental powers; her banker and her stockbroker, among many others, have collected financial and other personal data about her to lodge in government databanks, ready to trigger an investigation of her if the government happens to connect some dot of information to her dots (even if she’s done nothing wrong); her computer geek neighbor might be one of the innumerable telecommunications workers and librarians whom the FBI has conscripted to gather information on hundreds of thousands of occasions, perhaps about her friends or acquaintances—and then ordered not to tell anyone anything about their experience on pain of criminal prosecution; her nephew could be the computer studies student prosecuted for providing “material support to terrorists” (a crime punishable by up to fifteen years, imprisonment) because he served as webmaster for a website posting links to other people’s hateful comments; her son could be the college student detained and interrogated for packing his Arabic-English flash cards to study during a plane flight; she could find herself unable to complete an important business or personal trip because her name was incorrectly placed on a No Fly list . . .

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