WASHINGTON - U.S. citizens suspected of terror ties might be detained indefinitely and barred from access to civilian courts under legislation proposed by the Bush administration, say legal experts reviewing an early version of the bill.
According to the draft, the military would be allowed to detain all "enemy combatants" until hostilities cease. The bill defines enemy combatants as anyone "engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners who has committed an act that violates the law of war and this statute."
Legal experts said Friday that such language is dangerously broad and could authorize the military to detain indefinitely U.S. citizens who had only tenuous ties to terror networks like al Qaeda.
"That's the big question ... the definition of who can be detained," said Martin Lederman, a law professor at Georgetown University who posted a copy of the bill to a Web blog.
Lets put this in perspective and suppose that instead of being arrested by the FBI, the Liberty Seven (the set of ne'er-do-wells from Florida who were about the blow up the Sears Tower on the orders and by the direction of undercover government agents - just as soon as they hitchhiked their way to it) were instead shipped directly off to Gitmo. No Court Order. No Warrant. No possibility of Bail. No Trial. No attorneys. Nothing. Boom. Zip. Gone.
Hello people, we're just about to enter the land of the Disappeared - something that only used to occur in jungles of hot sweaty Central American Countries like Bolivia during the 80's drug and Contra Wars.
Don't think it can happen here? It already has been happening. Last year in Italy 14 U.S. Intelligence Agents were indicted for kidnapping an Egyptian Imam named Abu Omar (aka Osama Nasr Mostafa Hassan) who was then "rended" to Egypt in a Gulfstream jet and (according to him) brutally tortured. He's since been released and filed a lawsuit, because it turns out he diddn't have actual ties to terrorism - they were merely suspected - and wrong.
There is also the case of a German citizen of Lebanese decent named Khalid el-Masri, who was arrested and held for five months in Afghanistan because his name was the same as someone else who was "suspected" of having ties to terrorism.
And just how would such a policy dovetail with the Terrorist Surveillance Program?
After this program was revealed President Bush stated:
After September the 11th, I vowed to the American people that our government would do everything within the law to protect them against another terrorist attack. As part of this effort, I authorized the National Security Agency to intercept the international communications of people with known links to al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations. In other words, if al Qaeda or their associates are making calls into the United States or out of the United States, we want to know what they're saying.
First, our international activities strictly target al Qaeda and their known affiliates. Al Qaeda is our enemy, and we want to know their plans. Second, the government does not listen to domestic phone calls without court approval. Third, the intelligence activities I authorized are lawful and have been briefed to appropriate members of Congress, both Republican and Democrat. Fourth, the privacy of ordinary Americans is fiercely protected in all our activities.
We're not mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans. Our efforts are focused on links to al Qaeda and their known affiliates. So far we've been very successful in preventing another attack on our soil.
Since these statements were made back in May, it's become clear that this program is far more extensive than then President revealed. As revealed by Business Week, the GAO has discovered that not only is the NSA tracking tens of millions of American phone calls - they've also been buying personal data about millions of Americans.
The Departments of Justice, State, and Homeland Security spend millions annually to buy commercial databases that track Americans' finances, phone numbers, and biographical information, according to a report last month by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress. Often, the agencies and their contractors don't ensure the data's accuracy, the GAO found.
We now know thanks to the New York Times - although we'd already been told over and over and over again - that the U.S. government has been tracking the financial transactions of "suspected" terrorists.
But what if some of those "suspected" terrorists are innocent like Masri and Hassan?
There's an old saying about data collection : Garbage in - Garbage out.
Back in January the New York Times revealed that virtually all of the leads generated by the NSA which had been referred to the FBI led to dead-ends. Instead of finding and investigating would-be terrorist or terror sympathisers - the FBI instead found that the NSA surveillance had led them to school teachers, community activists and - gasp - War Protestors.
But the results of the program looked very different to some officials charged with tracking terrorism in the United States. More than a dozen current and former law enforcement and counterterrorism officials, including some in the small circle who knew of the secret eavesdropping program and how it played out at the F.B.I., said the torrent of tips led them to few potential terrorists inside the country they did not know of from other sources and diverted agents from counterterrorism work they viewed as more productive.
"We'd chase a number, find it's a school teacher with no indication they've ever been involved in international terrorism - case closed," said one former FBI official, who was aware of the program and the data it generated for the bureau. "After you get a thousand numbers and not one is turning up anything, you get some frustration."
There are still about 450 people being held at Gitmo, and estimates have varied that between 70%-90% of them have no ties to terrorism what-so-ever and were only sent there because of bounty hunters from rival tribes who sold them to U.S. forces after claiming they were linked to Al Qaeda or the Taliban.
And you wonder why we haven't come close to catching Zawahiri or Bin Laden yet?
So if Bush has his way, instead of winding up with a big fat FBI file -- (which of course, can still be mined by political operatives - or used to scrub voter roles) -- some of those thousands school teachers, veterans, activists and protestors who popped up on the NSA's radar - or whose neighbor just might be hard-up for rent money - just might find themselves on a one way trip to Gitmo for a little hard bargining session (as they used to call it on The X-Files).
Perhaps all this is why Alberto Gonzales seems to hell-bent on creating a exception to the War Crimes Act for actions taken as part of the War On Terror. A crime isn't a crime - if it's legal, is it?
Welcome to the Police State People, hope you brought a helmet.