In case you didn’t get your slice of cake and national security letter invitation to the parade, last week marked the tenth happy return of the USA PATRIOT Act (“Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism”… really). Signed by Bush II on October 26, 2011, the Patriot Act expanded the surveillance capacity of law enforcement agencies (most notably on the homefront) and remains one of the most reviled pieces of habitually-renewed legislation for civil liberties watchdogs. Nancy Murray, Director of Education at the ACLU of Massachusetts, rang in the decade at an Occupy Boston teach-in at the Dewey Square camp. Her takeaway: the Patriot Act is just part of an emerging “new normal,” under which Americans cede far-reaching surveillance powers to the government, the limits of which have not been fully explained to the public. Some highlights:
On the need for perspective in the war on “terror”
“We need to put this whole supposed ‘terrorist threat’ in perspective. It’s absolutely nuts, what we’re doing. In the twenty-five years from 1980 to 2005, 3178 people in the U.S. lost their lives to terrorism. But if you take away the attacks of 9/11 and the Oklahoma City bombing, there were 48 deaths classified as terrorism-related by the FBI. In the same period some 500,000 people were murdered in the United States. THAT is the real threat to Americans, murder. They’re using ‘terrorism’ to expand the homeland security-industrial complex, to get contracts to defense and armament manufacturers, which are now militarizing the homefront.”
On the meaning of the Patriot Act and the proliferation of secrecy
“There is a secret interpretation of the Patriot Act by the government that the public does not know about, which the ACLU has filed suit to uncover. I think that says it all: You can’t have a democracy with no information and no transparency. What are the people supposed to vote on if they don’t know what the government is doing?
Right now, there are 1.2 million people with top secret security clearance. Combined with all other levels of clearance, there are 4 million people involved in spying on all of us.
The leaders of this country are addicted to secrecy. They do not want we the people to know what they are doing. So there are more and more classifications.
We’re all considered potential suspects. That’s the way the national surveillance system works in the age of data mining and link analysis. The presumption of innocence is gone. Agencies are now looking for ‘pre-crime and we’re all potential suspects. It has completely distorted our constitutional values and the Bill of Rights.”
On the Democrats’ acquiescence
“Now we have Obama. Before becoming president, he criticized portions of the Patriot Act. Since becoming president, he has said that we need the Patriot Act without any changes, or we’ll have another terrorist attack. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, said back in May of this year that if the Patriot Act were not immediately reauthorized, we would ‘be giving terrorists the opportunity to plot attacks against our country undetected.’
They’ve just taken the playbook from the Bush administration. They’re using the exact same script. The Patriot Act is part of a new normal that both parties are endorsing. It is a damn shame.”
On grassroots opposition to the Patriot Act
“There have been over 400 cities and towns [including New York City] and 8 state legislatures that passed resolutions against the Patriot Act. This showed Congress what the public wanted. But all you have to say is ‘terror, terror, terror, fear, fear, fear,’ and Congress, like a bunch of sheep, reauthorized it.”
On what can be done
” I believe movements like Occupy have the capacity to shake up this ‘new normal’ as nothing else can. If there’s a real sense of non-violent uprising calling on Congress to bring back the Constitution, and to bring back the values we say we stand for, that can really begin to change things. The choice is ours to make. We’ve got to hang in the long struggle ahead, but we can do it.
The people are powerful. Once we see what is being done in our name, it’s about getting information, breaking through the secrecy and saying, ‘No. This is not the country we want.’”
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