Mike Hawash and the Erosion of Civil Liberties in America
Another look at what is or may be happening in our country. What happens when the liberties we hold dear are abandoned?
"No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger... nor be deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process of law." (Constitution, Amendment V).
This excerpt from the Bill of Rights illustrates basic rights accorded to all citizens of the United States. Over the years, the courts of law have more or less upheld these promises to society. It is important that criminals be given the same liberties as any others because the judicial system must assume that those accused of a crime are innocent until proven guilty. If one is automatically assumed guilty, this corrodes the entire legal process. Otherwise, there seems to be little point in a trial. There needs to be a standard to which ALL the people adhere. This amendment also states that the only exception to this principle is when the case pertains to the military or someone "in service" during a time of war.
On March 20, 2003, Maher "Mike" Hawash was arrested in Oregon by the FBI. He was held in prison for over a month until being indicted on May 2nd. Hawash was eventually charged with conspiring against the U.S. government and supporting Al-Qaeda. "A federal grand jury issued a superseding indictment May 2 naming Hawash in the conspiracies and adding firearms and money laundering charges against some defendants." [Larabee]. Mr. Hawash worked as a computer programmer for Intel and had been a U.S. citizen for over ten years. Little was known about exactly why Hawash was being held or the details surrounding his arrest. "An FBI press release concerning Hawash's arrest says simply that four federal search warrants were executed in the Hillsboro area as part of an 'ongoing investigation.' There are no hints about the nature of the investigation, except that it is unrelated to the war in Iraq, or the number of people detained." [Kahney].
One stark example of the bending or breaking of individual rights [in legislation] in favor of societal strength is the PATRIOT acts. Concerned citizens across the political spectrum continue to express their alarm at what is happening in the name of fighting terrorism. For example, the Department of Justice can now legally strip a suspected terrorist of citizenship, as well as imprison a US citizen for interminable lengths of time if they are suspected or being a terrorist or having connections to terrorist groups. "Many parts of this sweeping legislation take away checks on law enforcement and threaten the very rights and freedoms that we are struggling to protect. For example, without a warrant and without probable cause, the FBI now has the power to access your most private medical records, your library records, and your student records... and can prevent anyone from telling you it was done." [USA Patriot Act].
There have been streams of articles floating through various media (newspapers, the Internet, etc.) debating the morality and legality of the Hawash case. This is probably because it seems a shock that this event can occur so close to our daily lives - Hawash was a Portland resident. Many alarming sources on the Internet cite this case as a warning that the U.S. is becoming more like a Fascist state with the disappearance of many civil liberties in favor of national security. "As critics of the legislation point out, it gives the government the same power that Hitler and Julius Caesar gave themselves. The ACLU points out that it is by its very structure the definition of a dictatorship. While terrorism certainly is a threat which must be addressed, curtailing the civil liberties of innocent Americans is by no means a way of doing so." [DePhillips].
However, it could be said that Hawash, as a material witness, can be legally held for as long as the government deems necessary. Under the PATRIOT acts, suspected terrorists can be imprisoned indefinitely, even if they are U.S. citizens. "In sum, Patriot II puts in jeopardy the First Amendment right to speak freely, statutory and common law rights to privacy, the right to go to court to challenge government illegality, and the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures. But that's not all... .It also puts in jeopardy perhaps the most basic right of all: The right to walk the streets in safety without being "disappeared" by the government. Chileans have not always enjoyed this right. Americans, until now, always have." [Ramasastry].
It could be said that Hawash's apprehension occurred in a time of war, during which, historically, habeas corpus has been suspended. Habeas corpus is the constitution-given safeguard against illegal imprisonment. "President Lincoln suspended habeas corpus in 1861 at the beginning of the Civil War, and his decision was upheld by Congress despite protests by Chief Justice Roger Taney that such suspension was not within the powers of the President." [Habeas Corpus].
However, the Constitution is the ultimate law of the land in this country. "This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding" [Article VI] Even if Hawash was convicted of treason, he still deserves due process of law. In addition, the U.S. was not in a time of war. This occurrence was far removed from the so-called war on Iraq. In order for a military campaign to be cited as a war, it must be declared by Congress. In the Constitution, "to declare war" is listed as one of the powers of the legislative branch. [Constitution, Art. I, Sec. VIII, Clause XI]. This "war" was not declared by Congress.
I will now illustrate several reasons why the way the Hawash case was handled is immoral and unjust. For example, let's say Hawash did plot against the interests of the U.S. government. He should still be accorded the same rights as any other citizen. Humans have a moral responsibility to do right even if they are wronged. It seems that, in this case, the government adheres to more of a Machiavellian philosophy. "One must never do wrong even when one is wronged." [Plato 58]. Even if citizens are accused of "wronging" our government or acting against the interests of the government, our laws regarding the rights of the criminal must still be adhered to.
We especially must take care not to wrong someone in the advent of future wrongs, or possible (but not solidly confirmed) past wrongs. In this situation, for whatever reason, Hawash was imprisoned and denied due process. There is no excuse for such a flagrant violation of our Bill of Rights.
"People are accustomed to believe, and have been encouraged in the belief by some who aspire to the character of philosophers, that their feelings, on subjects of this nature are better than reasons, and render reasons unnecessary. The practical principle which guides them to their opinions on the regulation of human conduct is the feeling in each person's mind that everybody should be required to act as he... .would like them to act." (Mill 82 ).
Mill's illustration of this societal, irrational tyranny of the mind has frightening and far-ranging implications. This self-described "illusion" can be taught to future generations, until reason is expelled completely. It is hard to tell how much might be lost in our single-minded pursuit of similarity. Why are people taught that their feelings are better than reason? Who would this benefit? Feelings are much easier to manipulate. Therefore, if everyone could be taught to place increased trust in their feelings, an unthinking, mob-like society could be created and directed to fit the needs and desires of a calculating individual or group of individuals.
One feeling that is particularly easy to manipulate is fear. The fear of change and possible destruction propels many a backward motion. This is especially easy to do after a crisis. After a crisis, people are willing to sacrifice almost anything to retain their coveted sense of security and unity. These are times when we must keep close watch on our civil liberties. In a time of turmoil, those are the first to go. Sometimes it is hard to notice, because they are cloaked in words like "national security." In addition, the mass media makes our society more easily manipulated. The mass media and availability of propaganda makes the unfavorable changes seem more favorable, and more gradual. If many of the popular media outlets are owned by huge corporations with roughly the same interests, logically there will not be much variance in the opinions presented. This is already happening and could worsen with changing FCC regulations next month. An ideological dictatorship could emerge.
We are in a tumultuous time. In the Hawash case, and in other instances like it, we are taught that extreme measures must be taken against terrorists. We are told to discard their personal rights in the name of a nebulous greater good. In all the upheaval, it is sometimes unclear what we are losing in the process. Hopefully it's not our sense of reason and commitment to justice.
"There is also in the world at large an increasing inclination to stretch unduly the powers of society over the individual, both by the force of opinion and even by that of legislation; and as the tendency of all the changes taking place in the world is to strengthen society, and diminish the powers of the individual, this encroachment is one of the evils which... .grow(s) more and more formidable." (Mill 87).
As Mill illustrates, sometimes the things that increase our societal unity tend to have the opposite effect on the rights of the individual. This is apparent now. Although we appear to be a smooth-running, efficient society, this comes at a terrible price. Much of our basic civil liberties are gradually eroding. The end is not a greater society, it at the cost of the happiness and freedoms on all its individuals. Fascism was very efficient.
All this discussion of legal ramifications for being a terrorist calls into question the definition of a terrorist. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary characterizes terror as
"violence (as bombing) committed by groups in order to intimidate a population or government into granting their demands." From this we may garner that, in fact, the United States government has committed various crimes over the years that might be considered terrorist acts. What makes someone a terrorist or freedom fighter weighs heavily on a person's point of view.
"Men... have... a right to the goods which by the law of the community are theirs, that nobody has a right to take them... .without their own consent... it is a mistake to think that the Supreme or legislative power of any commonwealth can... dispose of the estates of the subject arbitrarily." (Locke 127).
One very important "property" of a U.S. citizen is their body. In the Hawash case, the FBI apprehended him and were in charge of his personage, with no clear reason or motivation for a month or more. This same behavior in our various law enforcement agencies has become a common practice since the attack on the twin towers nearly two years ago. "According to The Washington Post's November investigation, at least 44 people have been arrested and detained as material witnesses in post-Sept. 11 terrorist probes. The paper was unable to determine hard numbers because of secrecy surrounding the cases... The 1984 material witness statute was designed to coax testimony from unwilling witnesses or those likely to flee the country. But since Sept. 11, authorities have made widespread use of the statute to detain suspects indefinitely without charging them with any crime." [Kahney]. This illustration of some recent occurrences is quite frightening. It shows that the Hawash case was assuredly not an isolated event. Such violations have been going on for some time, and will continue until something is done to stop them.
In Hawash's case, the FBI has varied long-established laws. It appears they have done this because of the crime Hawash has been accused of, because he is a suspected "terrorist" and probably because he is an Arab-American. It is no different than interpreting the laws differently because a person is rich or handicapped or a man. One great thing (theoretically) about the U.S. governmental system is that we are supposed to accord everyone the same rights. This is no exception. This is not a special case. "They are to govern by promulgated established laws, not to be varied in particular cases, but to have one rule for rich and poor for the favorite at court and the countryman at plow." (Locke 128).
One thing that belongs to this life, and to all lives, are basic human rights. In the case of Maher "Mike" Hawash, his civil liberties were violated. This example seems an important warning sign of the path our nation seems to be heading down. In the name of a more secure society, we may end up sacrificing much that we care about. We must be committed to protecting the rights and freedoms of all, even those suspected of high criminal behavior. It is hard to say where this dangerous path might lead. The extremity of these circumstances could, at long last, attract the attention of the general populace. People often don't notice how bad things are until it is too late to fix them. So it is more likely that we will continue down this path of restriction and thinly veiled oppression. "The safest road to Hell is the gradual one, the gentle slope soft underfoot, with no sudden turnings, no milestones, no signposts." (Lewis).
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