by Jan Baughman
(Swans - December 31, 2007 - January 1, 2008) Congress has apparently learned not to give easily repeated, carefully-crafted names to their regressive bills -- to do so allows people to talk about them. Case in point, the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001, otherwise known as the USA PATRIOT Act, an oxymoronic acronym for a bill that requires us to be good patriots and give up our civil liberties in the name of global war on evil. One can easily say, for example, "The Patriot Act allowed for warrantless wiretapping," or "Hillary Clinton voted twice for the Patriot Act." Since the passage and re-passage of this bill Congress appears to have changed its approach -- with the latest repressive act given the unmemorizable, non-acronymizable "Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007," or the VRAHTP Act, (1) introduced by Senator Jane Harman with 10 Democratic and 5 Republican co-sponsors, and approved 404-6 by the House. (The Senate vote is forthcoming.) Dennis Kucinich has an easy-to-remember name for it: The "Thought Crime Bill." QED.
The House Committee on Homeland Security was quick to retort (2) that the VRAHTP Act is merely intended to fund research on how to prevent good Americans from becoming evil, and is not intended to repeal more civil liberties. It will "establish or designate a university-based Center of Excellence for the Study of Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism in the United States"; perhaps the School of the Americas will be a deserving recipient. Excuse me -- SOA changed its name to distance itself from criticism -- it's now the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC).
It doesn't take an exhaustive Web search to see that reporting on or analysis of the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention/Thought Crime Act is virtually nonexistent in the mainstream media, so one must read the text and try to understand the implications of its less-than-objective assertions:
Violent Radicalization - the process of adopting or promoting an extremist belief system for the purpose of facilitating ideologically based violence to advance political, religious, or social change.
Homegrown Terrorism - the use, planned use, or threatened use, of force or violence by a group or individual born, raised, or based and operating primarily within the United States or any possession of the United States to intimidate or coerce the United States government, the civilian population of the United States, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.
Ideologically Based Violence - the use, planned use, or threatened use of force or violence by a group or individual to promote the group or individual's political, religious, or social beliefs.
Unfortunately, the definitions of extremist, planned use, threatened use, and social change were not included...
In all fairness, these programs are not unique to the Bush administration (nor should we expect them to disappear with the next). One is reminded of a simpler acronym, CDI, for the Custodial Detention Index maintained by the FBI between 1939 and '41 in which suspected pro-Nazi and pro-fascist individuals were categorized by their risk level, ranging from leaders of cultural organizations, to those who donated to or merely expressed support for them. According to Wikipedia, (3) "While the program targeted primarily Japanese, Italian, and German 'enemy aliens,' it also included some American citizens. The program was run without Congress-approved legal authority, no judicial oversight, and outside of official legal boundaries of the FBI." This Index was ultimately used to identify Japanese-Americans for internment.
Similarly, a newly declassified letter (4) sent by J. Edgar Hoover to the White House twelve days after the start of the Korean War outlined "a plan to suspend habeas corpus and imprison some 12,000 Americans he suspected of disloyalty."
The permanent detention of these individuals will take place in regularly established Federal detention facilities. These facilities have been confidentially surveyed and the facilities have been found to be adequate in all areas except in the territory covered by the FBI's New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco Offices. In these three areas arrangements have been perfected with the National Military Establishment for the temporary and permanent detention in Military facilities of the individuals apprehended.
If California, New York, and Los Angeles prisons were inadequate in the 1950s, imagine the situation today. Therefore, it is worth recalling the $385 million grant awarded in January 2006 to KBR, formerly known as Kellogg Brown and Root and formerly a subsidiary of Halliburton, for the building of detention facilities to be used in "the event of an emergency influx of immigrants into the U.S., or to support the rapid development of new programs" or in a national emergency. (5) What new programs -- the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007? What national emergency -- too many citizens thinking about social change?
Which leads us finally to a new Texas law (6) requiring that evacuees -- say, from a hurricane -- undergo criminal background checks before boarding the bus. Officials won't reveal how this could possibly be accomplished in a systematic and timely manner while fleeing from a natural disaster, but they reassure that no one will be left behind (No Child Left Behind?). Evacuees will have the option of donning an electronic wristband courtesy of AT&T -- one of the phone companies that has generously handed phone-call records of millions of Americans over to the National Security Agency -- that will allow their whereabouts to be tracked. Next stop: microchipped humans, and it won't be voluntary... Will the passengers of the criminal buses find themselves at KBR detention facilities, where the USA PATRIOT Act will render them disappeared?
No matter the spin, the USA is becoming FUBAR, an acronym worth learning.
2. Committee on Homeland Security Fact Sheet Prepared by the Majority Staff: Understanding H.R. 1955: The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act.
http://homeland.house.gov/sitedocuments/hr1955factsheetpdf.pdf (PDF file) (back)
6. Next Time, Evacuees Subject to Criminal Checks -- State's plan calls for putting some offenders on separate bus, Houston Chronicle, December 15, 2007.
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