|Montreal, December 8, 2001 / No 94|
by Ron Paul, M.D.
It's easy for elected officials in Washington to tell the American people that the government will do whatever it takes to defeat terrorism. Such assurances inevitably are followed by proposals either to restrict the constitutional liberties of the American people or to spend vast sums of money from the federal treasury. The history of the 20th Century shows that the Congress violates our Constitution most often during times of crisis.
Accordingly, most of our worst unconstitutional agencies and programs began during the two World Wars and the Depression. Ironically, the Constitution itself was conceived in a time of great crisis. The founders intended its provision to place severe restrictions on the federal government, even in times of great distress. America must guard against current calls for government to sacrifice the Constitution in the name of law enforcement.
The "anti-terrorism" legislation recently passed by Congress demonstrates
how well-meaning politicians make shortsighted mistakes in a rush to respond
to a crisis. Most of its provisions were never carefully studied by Congress,
nor was sufficient time taken to debate the bill despite its importance.
No testimony was heard from privacy experts or from others fields outside
of law enforcement. Normal congressional committee and hearing processes
were suspended. In fact, the final version of the bill was not even made
available to Members before the vote! The American public should not tolerate
these political games, especially when our precious freedoms are at stake.
Target: American citizens
Almost all of the new laws focus on American citizens rather than potential
foreign terrorists. For example, the definition of "terrorism," for federal
criminal purposes, has been greatly expanded. A person could now be considered
a terrorist by belonging to a pro-constitution group, a citizen militia,
or a pro-life organization. Legitimate protests against the government
could place tens of thousands of other Americans under federal surveillance.
Similarly, internet use can be monitored without a user's knowledge, and
internet providers can be forced to hand over user information to law-enforcement
officials without a warrant or subpoena.
One cannot be reassured by believing these courts will only apply to foreigners who are terrorists. Sloppiness in convicting criminals is a slippery slope. We should not forget that the Davidians at Waco were "convicted" and demonized and slaughtered outside our judicial system, and they were, for the most part, American citizens. Randy Weaver's family fared no better.
It has been said that the best way for us to spread our message of freedom, justice and prosperity throughout the world is through example and persuasion, not through force of arms. We have drifted a long way from that concept. Military courts will be another bad example for the world. We were outraged in 1996 when Lori Berenson, an American citizen, was tried, convicted, and sentenced to life by a Peruvian military court. Instead of setting an example, now we are following the lead of a Peruvian dictator.
The ongoing debate regarding the use of torture in rounding up the criminals involved in the 9-11 attacks is too casual. This can hardly represent progress in the cause of liberty and justice. Once government becomes more secretive, it is more likely this tool will be abused. Hopefully the Congress will not endorse or turn a blind eye to this barbaric proposal. For every proposal made to circumvent the justice system, it's intended that we visualize that these infractions of the law and the Constitution will apply only to terrorists and never involve innocent U.S. citizens. This is impossible, because someone has to determine exactly who to bring before the tribunal, and that involves all of us. That is too much arbitrary power for anyone to be given in a representative government and is more characteristic of a totalitarian government.
Many throughout the world, especially those in Muslim countries, will be convinced by the secretive process that the real reason for military courts is that the U.S. lacks sufficient evidence to convict in an open court. Should we be fighting so strenuously the war against terrorism and carelessly sacrifice our traditions of American justice?
Congress has a profound responsibility in all of this and should never concede this power to a President or an Attorney General. Congressional oversight powers must be used to their fullest to curtail this unconstitutional assumption of power.
The planned use of military personnel to patrol our streets and airports is another challenge of great importance that should not go uncontested. For years, many in Washington have advocated a national approach to all policing activity. This current crisis has given them a tremendous boost. Believe me, this is no panacea and is a dangerous move. The Constitution never intended that the federal government assume this power. This concept was codified in the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878. This act prohibits the military from carrying out law-enforcement duties such as searching or arresting people in the United States, the argument being that the military is only used for this type of purpose in a police state. Interestingly, it was the violation of these principles that prompted the Texas Revolution against Mexico. The military under the Mexican Constitution at that time was prohibited from enforcing civil laws, and when Santa Anna ignored this prohibition, the revolution broke out. We should not so readily concede the principle that has been fought for on more than one occasion in this country.
Nobly give your body to your country
The threats to liberty seem endless. It seems we have forgotten to target the enemy. Instead we have inadvertently targeted the rights of American citizens. The crisis has offered a good opportunity for those who have argued all along for bigger government.
For instance, the military draft is the ultimate insult to those who love personal liberty. The Pentagon, even with the ongoing crisis, has argued against the reinstatement of the draft. Yet the clamor for its reinstatement grows louder daily by those who wanted a return to the draft all along. I see the draft as the ultimate abuse of liberty. Morally it cannot be distinguished from slavery. All the arguments for drafting 18-year old men and women and sending them off to foreign wars are couched in terms of noble service to the country and benefits to the draftees. The need-for-discipline argument is the most common reason given, after the call for service in an effort to make the world safe for democracy. There can be no worse substitute for the lack of parental guidance of teenagers than the federal government's domineering control, forcing them to fight an enemy they don't even know in a country they can't even identity.
Now it's argued that since the federal government has taken over the entire job of homeland security, all kinds of jobs can be found for the draftees to serve the state, even for those who are conscientious objectors.
The proponents of the draft call it "mandatory service." Slavery, too, was mandatory, but few believed it was a service. They claim that every 18-year old owes at least two years of his life to his country. Let's hope the American people don't fall for this "need to serve" argument. The Congress should refuse to even consider such a proposal. Better yet, what we need to do is abolish the Selective Service altogether.
However, if we get to the point of returning to the draft, I have a proposal. Every news commentator, every Hollywood star, every newspaper editorialist, and every Member of Congress under the age of 65 who has never served in the military and who demands that the draft be reinstated, should be drafted first – the 18-year olds last. Since the Pentagon says they don't need draftees, these new recruits can be the first to march to the orders of the general in charge of homeland security. For those less robust individuals, they can do the hospital and cooking chores for the rest of the newly formed domestic army. After all, someone middle aged owes a lot more to his country than an 18-year old.
I'm certain that this provision would mute the loud demands for the return of the military draft.
I see good reason for American citizens to be concerned – not only about another terrorist attack, but for their own personal freedoms as the Congress deals with the crisis. Personal freedom is the element of the human condition that has made America great and unique and something we all cherish. Even those who are more willing to sacrifice a little freedom for security do it with the firm conviction that they are acting in the best interest of freedom and justice. However, good intentions can never suffice for sound judgment in the defense of liberty.
I do not challenge the dedication and sincerity of those who disagree with the freedom philosophy and confidently promote government solutions for all our ills. I am just absolutely convinced that the best formula for giving us peace and preserving the American way of life is freedom, limited government, and minding our own business overseas.
Henry Grady Weaver, author of a classic book on freedom, The Mainspring of Human Progress, years ago warned us that good intentions in politics are not good enough and actually are dangerous to the cause. Weaver stated:
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