So Long, Civil Liberties

The Progressive, May 1996 | Go to article overview

So Long, Civil Liberties


President Clinton is trying to fuel his reelection campaign by setting fire to the Bill of Rights. In the last few months, the President has proposed legislation that would crack down on criminals, drug dealers, and terrorists by curtailing the civil liberties of all Americans.

Ironically, the Republican-controlled House saved us from some of the most egregious portions of Clinton's terrorism bill. The House cut provisions that would expand the wire-tapping powers of the federal government, revive guilt by association, allow for the summary deportation of suspected terrorists, and target groups in the United States suspected of raising money for terrorist activity abroad.

Now Clinton is complaining that the House "took the teeth" out of the bill. But while the President does his best to make the Congressional Republicans look like card-carrying members of the ACLU, the law Congress did pass is bad enough.

Among other things, it seriously limits the ability of prisoners on death row to appeal their cases, and creates several new categories of federal offenses punishable by death.

Clinton has advertised his avid support for the death penalty since his first Presidential campaign, when he attended the execution of Rickey Ray Rector, a mentally handicapped African-American prisoner in Arkansas. And he demonstrated his disdain for civil liberties long before the Oklahoma City bombing when he introduced his first crime bill. But the President is reaching new lows with the repressive measures he's proposing as he builds up to his next campaign. The worst example is his sudden boosterism for the war on drugs.

"Nothing better illustrates the heroic audacity of the President's attempt to run against his own first term" than the resurrection of the drug war, Paul Gigot wrote in The Wall Street Journal.

With the appointment of drug czar Barry McCaffrey, a four-star general and the first military officer ever to head the White House drug office, Clinton announced a sudden change in approach.

At the beginning of his term, Clinton gutted the White House drug-policy office, drastically reducing the number of staff positions in that office from 146 to twenty-five. Now, after appointing McCaffrey, the President has asked Congress to increase the number of drug-policy staff positions to 150.

Following his about-face on the drug policy office, the President announced he would pump $250 million over the next year into the tried-and-failed war on drugs. McCaffrey, who headed the U.S. Southern Command in Panama, assured reporters he would put the money to good use, collaborating with Pentagon military planners to devise a domestic anti-drug strategy. It's an ominous beginning.

Clinton also says that he wants to get federal agents more involved in tracking down teenage gang members who peddle drugs. "From now on the rule for residents [of housing projects] who commit crimes and peddle drugs should be: One strike and you're out," he announced.

Local housing authorities will begin holding eviction hearings for people who are accused of illegal activity, or whose guests or kids are accused of illegal activity. "Living in public housing is a privilege, not a right," Henry Cisneros declared.

As the prisons fill with nonviolent drug offenders, the President is introducing policies that will make the problem even worse. (See "The Return of Reefer Madness" by Mike Males and Faye Docuyanan, Page 26.)

"Two years after California's tough `three strikes and you're out' law went into effect, twice as many defendants have been imprisoned under the law for marijuana possession as for murder, rape, and kidnapping combined," The New York Times reports. A common quip in California is that half the state's population will soon be behind bars, and the other half will be employed as guards.

Clearly, the enormous growth in the prison population has done nothing to reduce drug abuse or crime, or the conditions that create these social ills. …

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