Monday, April 28, 2008

The Chilling Effect of Fear and Lawlessness

I have often wondered how I would summarize this time in our history if my adult son were to ever ask. How freedom and liberty’s meaning changed in just eight short years. How fear motivated public policy then and now. How the Bush administration “chilled” our confidence in those constitutional rights we thought were undeniable. How government successfully fill that founding document with so many legal loopholes that the President would discount it in the most egregious way.

Back on December 14, 2005, reported this: “Doug Thompson, publisher of Capitol Hill Blue, says he’s talked to three people present when Republican Congressional leaders met with President Bush in the Oval Office to talk about renewing the Patriot Act. That act, passed by legislators who hadn’t read it, in the immediate aftermath of 9-11 has of course been criticized as containing unconstitutional elements. All three GOP politicians quote their president as saying: “Stop throwing the Constitution in my face! It’s just a goddamned piece of paper!”

In a New York Times article "Lawyers Fear Monitoring in Cases on Terrorism," 'lawyers who represent suspects in terrorism-related investigations complain that their ability to do their jobs is being hindered by the suspicion that the government is listening in, using the eavesdropping authority it obtained — or granted itself — after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The Justice Department does not deny that the government has monitored phone calls and e-mail exchanges between lawyers and their clients as part of its terrorism investigations in the United States and overseas. If there has been surveillance of lawyers involved in terrorism cases, it has been handled in strict accordance with federal law and with the Constitution’s promise of a criminal defendant’s right to counsel.”

I refuse to buy into that denial.

Take for instance this amazing governmental mistake illustrating how they are violating our constitutional rights. “In a terrorism-financing investigation centered on the offices of an Islamic charity in Oregon, the government mistakenly provided defense lawyers in August 2004 with what the lawyers say was a logbook of intercepted phone calls between the charity’s lawyers in Washington, D.C., and clients in Saudi Arabia…the logbook, which was stamped ‘top secret,’ appeared to reflect eavesdropping under the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping program. It ‘has been called unconstitutional by many legal scholars, lawmakers and civil liberties groups because it allowed the monitoring of the phone calls of Americans without a court’s permission.”

And if a lawyer decided to defend an accused terrorist, they would face “potential violations of their privacy, including monitoring of their communications with clients…required to undergo background checks that can include an F.B.I. review of their financial and medical records, including records of psychiatric care.” Are you beginning to feel the chill?

Not only that, the Bush administration is pushing Congress to make permanent the relaxed restrictions on domestic wiretapping. Should that make us nervous? Don’t be ridiculous.
“Two senior Justice Department officials said they understood that the intercepted conversations were not shared with front-line prosecutors in an effort to be certain that there was no violation of attorney-client privilege.”

Would it make you more comfortable to know the administration ended the warrantless wiretapping program? “Lawyers say they are concerned that the government has found another way of monitoring lawyer-client conversations, perhaps through the use of secret warrants obtained through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, a special court used in national security cases. The earlier N.S.A. program bypassed the surveillance court.”

And that is the question. Our only hope is that the court would deny any attempt to listen in on defense lawyers and their clients. Perhaps it’s already too late.

The very idea that the government might be listening in may have already put in place the desired “chilling effect” it intended in the first place.

No comments:

Post a Comment