The date of this article is not known, as the items it lists are also little publicised;  what is also not known is how many of these "reforms" have in fact been repealed (silently) since, and what remains in force,...




Article by Andrew Stephen for the New Statesman Magazine in London: >

You leave the bad-tempered, snarling traffic of Massachusetts Avenue and
the next minute you are inside America's most prominent mosque, formally
opened by President Eisenhower in 1957. Ramadan has just started, and
the atmosphere is muted and reverential; Turkish porcelain tiles line
the walls, and closely woven Persian carpets cover the floors.  Men come
in to pray quietly - their knees, hands and forehead touching the floor
in the symbolic recall of the five pillars of Islam. A couple come in
and, with the minimum of fuss or formality, are married. But the men -
except for the bridal party who have parted company with the women, now
on the floor below - look both sad and lonely. If you are a Muslim in
America today, you are frightened: it is rather as the Japanese in
America felt after Pearl Harbor, and before their mass internment.

Despite the protestations of the Bush administration that the
perpetrators of the 11 September atrocities will never prevail in their
attempt to overturn the American way of life, they have already
succeeded in doing so. Amid all the triumphalism over military
operations overseas, the transformation of the US into a police state
has gone largely unnoticed.  Britain may be up in arms about David
Blunkett and his dismissal of airy-fairy rights and liberties, but what
is happening in the UK is benign and gentle compared to the situation
here. "American values", a phrase much used of late by President Bush,
have been tossed out of the window. More than two centuries of painfully
accrued constitutional checks and balances have been discarded. In the
words of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Bill of Rights is now
"distorted beyond recognition".

Weeks ago, I wrote that more than 1,000 men had been interned here
without trial or proper access to a lawyer or the outside world. The US
Justice Department now refuses to release any kind of figure for the
number arrested and imprisoned without trial, and so we do not know how
many people - we can assume nearly all of them to be Muslims - have been
plucked away. The atmosphere is such that supposedly liberal columnists
debate the pros and cons of torturing prisoners, and then finally
conclude that, yes, torture is OK in these extraordinary times. The
Democratic senator for Vermont, Patrick Leahy, sums up the edgy mood
succinctly: "I don't know when, in the last 20 years, I've heard so many
members of both parties come up and say, 'What the heck is going on?'"

Even senior senators were not informed beforehand of Bush's latest
executive order, bringing in secret military tribunals to try non-US
citizens. For those men at the mosque, it seems a real possibility,
while for me, as a legally resident alien, it may be more theoretical:
but we non-citizens can now be secretly arrested and then tried in
secret at undisclosed locations (naval ships have been suggested as a
possibility), without being entitled to the legal representation we
request. If a two-thirds majority of the military tribunal so order it,
we can then be executed without the information being released to the
public. Non-US citizens now have no constitutional protections in the
land of the free and home of the brave, no soppy bills of rights to see
that they are treated fairly or even openly. "Any individual subject to
this order shall not be privileged to seek any remedy . . . in any court
of the United States, or any state thereof," the president decreed.

The justification for such measures is that they protect the very
American values they suspend; that only by suspending basic human rights
(to say nothing of the ancient principle of habeas corpus) can these
true American values be restored. "This is absolutely, totally
constitutional," the White House insists. "The only ones to be tried
will be foreign enemy belligerents."  A military tribunal "guarantees
that we'll have the kind of treatment of these individuals that we
believe they deserve", says the vice-president Dick Cheney. But it will
be the president and his proxies who will decide on the identity of
those individuals and the nature of their supposed crimes. So much for a
fair trial, juries of peers, and other originally English ideals
previously held so precious here: the moves are only very gingerly being
opposed, though such timid protests are coming from both the right and
the left.

This staggering accrual of power by the US president has been made
possible by intense public revulsion over the atrocities; Americans have
been suborned into believing in the overwhelming rightness and fairness
of their government. Not since FDR instigated a secret military hearing
to try eight Nazi saboteurs who landed on US soil by submarine in 1942
has any administration been so omnipotent. In that case, six of the
eight - two had presumably given evidence against the others - were
swiftly executed. But even their case went before the US Supreme Court,
a judicial review that Bush et al now seek to circumvent.

Even the Nuremberg trials after the Second World War were held in
public, as was Israel's 1961 trial of the Nazi ringleader Adolf Eichmann
(who was then hanged). In this country, the suspension of habeas corpus
was last granted to President Lincoln in 1861. All this is now in effect
here without reference, let alone approval, by either the House or
Senate. A cardinal principle of American rule of law - the separation of
powers, of the judiciary from the executive and the legislature - has
now been breached, with the president assuming the roles of police,
judge, jury and (if he so wishes) executioner.

US citizens' rights are being swiftly eroded, too. The patently
inadequate attorney-general, John Ashcroft, has approved the right of
the authorities to wiretap conversations between lawyer and client, a
hitherto sacrosanct, privileged exchange in the eyes of US law; the
sixth constitutional amendment, designed to ensure that the accused
receives adequate legal counsel, has been eroded by the stroke of a pen.
Five-thousand men between the ages of 18 and 33, nearly all of them (we
can again assume) Muslim, are now being rounded up for questioning.

The authorities have greatly increased powers to wiretap phone-calls and
e-mails. Intelligence briefings about what is going on, meanwhile, are
being restricted to eight out of the 535 members of Congress. And the
president has also issued a new executive order, known just as 13223,
which bars the public from seeing documents from the last four
presidencies; so much for the Freedom of Information Act.Thus the
atmosphere of emergency, fear and foreboding proliferates. The Bush
administration continues to give out its confusing double messages: it
tells people to live their lives normally and enjoy themselves at
restaurants and shopping malls, while its members themselves show every
sign of being petrified over what may happen next. Reassuring traditions
next month would have been those of the traditional public tours of the
White House Christmas decorations, with a huge Christmas tree taking
pride of place in front of the White House; neither will happen this
year, the White House announced last Monday.

In this past Thanksgiving week here, no American has dared raise more
than a timid voice of protest about what is going on in the name of
justice and security. But the suspension of the civil rights of which
America was so justly proud must be giving quiet satisfaction to those
behind the 11 September outrages. Disrupting the American way of life
was what they wanted, and this is what they have now achieved.

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