Rights and Liberties This Week: Taking It on the Chin

Monday November 18th was a tough one for fans of civil liberties. Just days after the house voted overwhelmingly in favor of the Homeland Security Department (which would create a goliath 170,000-employee agency with almost unlimited snooping powers), the act is now being discussed, with good chances of fast-track approval, by the Senate. And just in case that doesn’t frighten you, the ultra top-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review court ruled Monday that the U.S. government has the right to use expanded powers to spy on U.S. citizens under the USA Patriot Act.

Civil liberties leaders, including the ACLU, say the expanded powers, which allow greater leeway in conducting electronic surveillance and in using information obtained from the wiretaps and searches, jeopardize constitutional rights.

In the No One is Safe Department: Monday also revealed that the FBI had conducted a rather humorless investigation of chess champion Bobby Fischer. Apparently, Fischer’s mother was suspected of being a Soviet spy.

If all this snooping and spying isn’t enough to cure your nostalgia for the Cold War, the Washington Post reported this week that U.S. top national security advisers are thinking about creating a new, domestic spy agency, perhaps modeled on Britain's MI5. This new agency would take over responsibility for counterterrorism spying and analysis from the FBI, who, apparently, are not quite up coming up to snuff when it comes to rooting out potential terrorists.

In better news, United States was soundly defeated Thursday, November 14 in a fresh bid to cripple a draft of an anti-torture treaty that has been a decade in the making. The UN General Assembly's Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Committee overrode U.S. opposition and approved the draft treaty by a 104-8 vote. The treaty goes next month to the full 191-nation General Assembly, where it is expected to win approval. To take effect, the pact must then be signed and ratified by at least 20 governments. The treaty would set up an international system of inspections of any prison sites.

Only on a Monday like this, would this be considered even a glimmer of hope.

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