Osama Is Under Your Bed
It's been a nervous week. Every night before bed, I've taken a broom handle and thrust it under my bed. Each time, I'm waiting for the "Oof!" Osama is under there, I just know it. If the President says it, it must be true, right? One of these nights, I'll bust that Osama in the ribs with my handle. Just you wait. I'm keeping my feet under the covers, though. You know, just in case.
It happens like clockwork these days: A significant piece of legislation comes before Congress that was ostensibly drafted to help defend the nation against terrorism. Line items within the legislation do away with previously sacrosanct personal freedoms outlined within the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Should said legislation pass, the power of the federal government to arrest and detain citizens without trial or access to attorney, to search private homes without warrant or notice, to tap telephone and computer communications, and to keep vital information secreted away from the eyes of the public, would be greatly enhanced.
In the days leading up to the mandated Congressional debate regarding said legislation, terror warnings suddenly bloom like nightshade. The White House or the FBI or the CIA, or all three in concert, ratchet up the national tension level with forecasts of doom and death and fire from unknown quarters. Said legislation passes without so much as leaving a wake in its path, nothing explodes, and everyone goes on with their lives in the belief that they just narrowly dodged a bullet. At the conclusion of the process, the foundations of American freedom have been redacted, edited, clipped and round-filed.
The PATRIOT Act was passed in such a fashion. When that bill came up, the entire country was collecting its mail with oven mitts on to avoid exposure to anthrax, despite the fact that Democratic Senators like Patrick Leahy and Tom Daschle were the intended targets of this assassination attempt. The media got its dose of the poison, ensuring that all publicly aired conversation regarding the legislation would be coated with a veneer of hysteria. All of us were going to get 'thraxed, and so let us pass this ruinously contra-constitutional legislation without even reading it. I'd bet some serious folding green that many of the Senators who voted the thing into existence a year ago still haven't read it.
Sometimes, this has happened when no legislation is pending. Sometimes, this happens when Mr. Bush and his pals feel they have too much light on them. When Time and Newsweek came out with blazing cover stories, and the headline "Bush Knew," when word got out that the administration had been warned specifically and in detail about terrorist plans to hijack airplanes and slam them into buildings, all of a sudden the threat siren began howling. They're going to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge! They're going to blow up the Statue of Liberty! Run for your lives!
Needless to say, those structures still stand. No one is talking about "Bush Knew" anymore, though.
Like clockwork this happens. Cut this phenomenon with Occam's Razor -- "all things being equal, the simplest explanation is usually the correct one" -- and the word 'coincidence' becomes hard to spit out.
It happened again last week.
Legislation to create a Department of Homeland Security has wended its way toward Congressional approval. If passed, this legislation would signal the largest reorganization of the federal government since the passage of the National Security Act in 1947. Line items within the legislation:
- Eliminate vital aspects of the Freedom of Information Act, allowing the government and private corporate contractors to operate completely in secret and beyond citizen oversight;
- Create something called a 'Total Information Awareness' program within the Defense Department. Conservative columnist and former Nixon aide William Safire summed up succinctly what this will do. "Every purchase you make with a credit card, every magazine subscription you buy and medical prescription you fill, every Web site you visit and e-mail you send or receive, every academic grade you receive, every bank deposit you make, every trip you book and every event you attend -- all these transactions and communications will go into what the Defense Department describes as 'a virtual, centralized grand database.' To this computerized dossier on your private life from commercial sources, add every piece of information that government has about you -- passport application, driver's license and bridge toll records, judicial and divorce records, complaints from nosy neighbors to the F.B.I., your lifetime paper trail plus the latest hidden camera surveillance."
- Redefines the term 'Terrorism.' Before, 'Terrorism' involved explosions, murder, kidnapping and any activity that used violence to frighten civilians and change the manner in which a government functioned. Under the new legislation, the definition of 'Terrorism' is expanded. Now, 'Terrorism' is defined as an act that, "Is a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State or other subdivision of the United States," or "Appears to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population." Protests against the government or against a private contractor involved with the government are intended to 'coerce' the civilian population. Loitering is a criminal offense. If you do either of these from now on, you may consider yourself welcomed into the ranks of international terrorism. Seriously.
- Deletes any possibility of an effective independent investigation into what went wrong on Sept. 11, thanks to the aforementioned FOIA restrictions.
One would think so profound a sea change in the essential rights and freedoms of the citizenry would be subject to intense Congressional debate, no? After all, it took Congress two years of discussion to nail down the specifics and the fine print of the National Security Act. This is important stuff here.
Like clockwork comes the klaxon CNN headline on Nov. 15: 'FBI Warns al Qaeda Planning "Spectacular" Attack.'
Spectacular, no less.
Like clockwork comes the voice of Osama, prophesying death and doom from beyond the grave. Wasn't he dead for a while? This fellow has made more comebacks than Elvis, and always in time to redirect the national dialogue away from discussing the ways and means of incredibly important legislation.
All 484 pages of the Homeland Security Department legislation passed through Congress and they will pass through the Senate, likely unread by a majority of those casting the votes. At some point, the teeth of this legislation will sink in, but it will be too late to do much of anything about it. If anyone tries, you can be sure of a new burst of incredibly dire warnings coming down from on high. Osama bin Laden is under your bed. He's alive again, and planning to eat your children. Head for the hills, and never mind your constitutional rights.
They will keep doing this until someone calls them on it, out loud and in public.
William Rivers Pitt is a teacher from Boston, MA. He is the author of two books, "War On Iraq" (with Scott Ritter) and "The Greatest Sedition is Silence," available in April 2003 from Pluto Press.