I'm still wondering where all the damn outrage
is, and I'm not talking about the Foley scandal. On Sept. 29, the Senate voted
100-0 in favor of the pork-swollen Pentagon budget, which earmarked $70 billion
for our ongoing military ventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. There was no debate
over the appropriation, and not one Democrat voted against the egregious spending.
On the same day, the Senate also overwhelmingly approved the dismantling of
habeas corpus for "enemy combatants." Twelve Democrats sided with
the Republicans to allow the U.S. government to detain people arbitrarily and
We shouldn't be all that surprised the Democrats didn't filibuster the awful
bill, which also expanded the definition of "enemy combatant" to include
anyone who "has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against
the United States," whatever that's supposed to mean. No, the Democrats
have long been on the front lines of the federal government's assault on our
In fact, what we are seeing today is just a logical continuation of a foundation
laid during the Clinton era. Before the now well-known PATRIOT Act there was
the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which was signed into law
following the Oklahoma City bombing of April 19, 1995.
"The act was wide-ranging, dealing with everything from the making of
plastic explosives to trading in nuclear materials," writes Georgetown
law professor David Cole and James X. Dempsey in Terrorism
and the Constitution.
"Members of Congress immediately felt tremendous pressure to pass anti-terrorism
legislation," Cole and Dempsey recall. "It did not matter that the
proposals in the president's initial bill were directed largely against international
terrorism, while the Oklahoma bombing was the work of homegrown discontents.
… Eager to get the bill on the president's desk by the April 19 anniversary
of the Oklahoma City bombing, the Senate adopted the conference report on April
17 in a 91-8 vote. The next day, the House also adopted the report by a vote
of 293-133. On April 24, President Clinton signed the Anti-Terrorism and Effective
Death Penalty Act of 1996."
"To make the death penalty effective," explains civil liberties expert
Elaine Cassel in The
War on Civil Liberties, "meant making it harder to appeal convictions
of capital offenses." Clinton's law, says Cassel, also "[made] it
a crime to support even the lawful activities of an organization labeled as
terrorist … [authorized] the FBI to investigate the crime of 'material support'
for terrorism based solely on activities protected under the First Amendment
… [froze the] assets of any U.S. citizen or domestic organization believed to
be an agent of a terrorist group, without specifying an 'agent' … [expanded]
the powers of the secret court … [repealed] the law that barred the FBI from
opening investigations based solely on activities protected under the First
Amendment … [and allowed] the Immigration and Naturalization Service (now called
the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) to deport citizens (mostly Muslims)
upon the order of INS officials."
Of course, these are but a few of the ways in which the Clinton administration
infringed upon civil liberties. Speaking of the legacy of these breaches of
our guaranteed civil liberties, Clinton himself admitted to making "a number
of ill-advised changes in our immigration laws, having nothing to do with fighting
Sounds familiar, doesn't it?
In the wake of Sept. 11, it wasn't surprising that Clinton's successor George
W. Bush legislated additional infringements upon civil liberties in the name
of patriotism and national security. And yes, the Democrats overwhelmingly supported
the PATRIOT Act in both of its awful versions. But it wasn't the PATRIOT Act
that allowed the federal government to make those sweeping detentions across
the country immediately following 9/11 – it was Clinton's Anti-Terrorism and
Effective Death Penalty bill.
So who is honestly supposed to believe that ushering the Democrats back into
office in November will bring any sort of legitimate change – in Iraq or back