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Itís not patriotic to violate the Constitution

By Walt Brasch - posted Wednesday, 8 June 2005


If politics makes strange bedfellows, then I’m at least fluffing Bob Barr’s pillows.

Bob Barr?! The far-right, self-righteous congressman who led what much of a nation saw as a vindictive impeachment of Bill Clinton? The National Rifle Association Board of Directors member who believes the Second Amendment is the one that guarantees the protection of all the other amendments? The man who proposed eliminating federal funding to the Public Broadcasting Service and eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts? The author of the Defence of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman - and yet may have committed adultery with his future third wife while married to his second wife? The vigorous opponent of pro-choice, who supported his second wife’s abortion? The “family values” proponent who was photographed at what passed as a charity event licking whipped cream off the breasts of two women?

Yes, that Bob Barr.

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But, he’s also the Bob Barr who has spoken out against the neo-conservative movement for its super-patriotic suppression of dissent, rising beliefs in a “tax-and-spend” bureaucracy and unqualified support of the USA PATRIOT Act.

Six weeks after 9-11, about 85 per cent of the House of Representatives, including Bob Barr, and all but one Senator, voted for the USA PATRIOT Act, a cutesy acronym for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act. The Act was developed in secret by the Department of Justice, and pushed upon a shell-shocked Congress, most of whom had less than a day to read any of the 342-page document; most didn’t read any of it. Prior to its passage, a few members of Congress spoke out against the Act, charging that it was developed in haste and that there were constitutional issues swept aside by the Bush Administration and its Department of Justice.

But most of Congress voted for it because they wanted America to be free - and the President was flexing his political muscle following the murders of more than 3,000 Americans. Most Americans, with almost no information to the contrary from talk shows or the news media, believed the PATRIOT Act was necessary and vital to securing our freedom.

But, the results of the Bush Administration’s use of the PATRIOT Act and other measures to track down and capture terrorists have been almost non-existent, and its impact upon Americans’ constitutional rights has been severe. And so Bob Barr is on a nation-wide speaking tour, sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union - yes, that civil liberties union - to let Americans know that the PATRIOT Act, while it has many provisions to strengthen America’s defence, most of them in place long before 9-11, also has several odious sections that threaten constitutional protections.

With conviction honed by seven years as a CIA lawyer and analyst, four years as US Attorney, and eight years as a congressman, most of that time spent on the Judiciary Committee, Barr has the credibility to go against the Bush Administration and any of its supporters. “More than any foreign terrorist group,” Barr tells his audiences, “provisions of the PATRIOT Act are the greatest threat to America and to American citizens.” Barr has created Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances to energise the public against the PATRIOT Act and the Bush Administration’s misguided belief that it is possible to sacrifice civil liberties to guarantee national security.

What many saw as necessary is now being seen as violating six Constitutional amendments:

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  • The First Amendment - freedom of religion, speech, press, and assembly, and the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances;
  • the Fourth Amendment - freedom from unreasonable searches (the so-called “right to privacy” amendment);
  • the Fifth Amendment - right against self-incrimination and due process;
  • the Sixth Amendment - due process, the right to counsel, a speedy trial and the right to a fair and public trial by an impartial jury;
  • the Eighth Amendment - reasonable bail and freedom from cruel and unusual punishment; and
  • the Fourteenth Amendment - equal protection guarantee for both citizens and non-citizens.

What the Bush Administration has done to American citizens and non-combatants following 9-11 also violates Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution which guarantees the right to petition the courts to issue a writ of habeas corpus to require the government to produce a prisoner or suspect in order to determine the legality of the detention. Only Congress may order a suspension of the right of the writ, and then only in “Cases of Rebellion or Invasion”. Congress did not act to suspend this right; nothing during or subsequent to the 9-11 attack indicated either a rebellion or invasion under terms of the Constitution.

Several federal courts and two major Supreme Court decisions in the past year have dealt blows to the Administration’s persistence in defending the PATRIOT Act. And yet the Bush Administration continues to build its bulwarks, and gather and use its manifest power to look for ways to subvert the Courts, one of the checks against unlimited executive branch power.

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Article edited by Kelly Donati.
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About the Author

Walter Brasch is professor of journalism at Bloomsburg University. He is an award-winning syndicated columnist, and author of 16 books. Dr. Brasch's current books are Unacceptable: The Federal Governmentís Response to Hurricane Katrina; Sex and the Single Beer Can: Probing the Media and American Culture; and Sinking the Ship of State: The Presidency of George W. Bush (Nov. 2007) You may contact him at brasch@bloomu.edu.

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