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ISSUES-Civil Liberties

Civil Liberties

Civil liberties are freedoms that, by definition, protect individuals against excessive government encroachments on, and control over, their private lives. Thus civil liberties are the logical correlates of limited government. The first formal civil-liberties protections in the United States were written into the Bill of Rights, whose express purpose was to stipulate that the government would not be permitted to deny people such liberties as  freedom of thought, freedom of conscience, freedom of expression, freedom of association, freedom to peaceably assemble, freedom to worship (or not) as one chooses, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures, freedom to bear arms, and freedom from double jeopardy and self-incrimination in a court of law.

Civil liberties are different from civil rights, which protect people not against government overreach but rather against acts of discrimination in the private sphere -- in such areas as employment, housing, or education. Civil-rights laws generally specify a set of characteristics that cannot be used to favor some people over others: race, religion, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, and nationality. Whereas civil liberties are designed to free people from the intrusion of government into the private sphere, civil-rights laws actually call for government intervention to prohibit discrimination there.

The major organizations in America’s contemporary civil-liberties establishment include, among others, the Center for Constitutional Rights; the American Civil Liberties Union, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, and the National Lawyers Guild. These groups share an ideological framework that casts the United States government as an "oppressive" regime at home and an imperialist intruder overseas; that depicts America as a nation which discriminates heavily against nonwhites, women, homosexuals, Muslims, and people with disabilities, to name just a few designated "victim" groups; and that egregiously violates the civil liberties of terrorist and criminal suspects in the name public safety and homeland security. Similar perspectives are also held by such Muslim advocacy organizations -- which also profess to be defenders of civil liberties -- as the American Muslim Alliance, the American Muslim Council, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Islamic Circle of North America, the Islamic Society of North America, the Muslim American Society, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, and the Muslim Students Association of the United States and Canada.

Accusing the U.S. government of waging a post-9/11 attack on the Bill of Rights, these organizations were united in condemning the George W. Bush administration for trampling on civil liberties by expanding the authority of security agencies to conduct wiretaps and surveillance on suspected terrorists; denouncing policies which permitted the detention of suspected terrorists for longer periods than ordinary criminals; complaining that law-enforcement agencies were engaged in “racial profiling” when they sought to interview Middle Eastern men in the U.S. on temporary visas; lamenting that the new Patriot Act regulations which permitted law-enforcement and intelligence authorities to share (with one another) information about possible terrorist plots amounted to assaults on people’s privacy; protesting an FBI anti-terrorism initiative to count and document every mosque (where calls for violent jihad often originate) in America; lobbying against the heightened scrutiny of individuals from terrorism-sponsoring countries at airports and border checkpoints; and opposing the Computer-Assisted Passenger Profiling System used by airlines to check for various passenger characteristics that historically have been correlated with terrorist motives.

At the root of these civil-liberties organizations’ positions is a belief that the U.S. has literally brought terrorism upon itself; that terrorism would stop if only America would improve its behavior; and that the perpetrators of Islamist terrorism are in fact rational individuals who are merely trying to air legitimate grievances. By logical extension, civil-liberties groups are typically inclined to defend even self-declared enemies of the United States such as the late radical attorney Lynne Stewart, an avowed enemy of capitalism and a staunch defender of Muslim jihadists, to whom she referred as "forces of national liberation." A devoted Maoist, Stewart herself was a self-proclaimed champion of "civil liberties" who defended such notorious figures as Weather Underground bomber Kathy Boudin and Black Panther Willie Holder. She also went on record saying that, if given the opportunity, she would defend Osama bin Laden. Stewart made national headlines in April 2002 when she was arrested for providing material support to the Islamic Group, an Egypt-based terrorist organization with close links to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network. After Stewart's arrest, a litany of leftwing civil-liberties organizations instantly rushed to her aid. These included International ANSWER, the National Lawyers GuildRefuse and Resist, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and the Center for Constitutional Rights

Another of the more infamous civil-liberties advocates of recent years was the former University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian, who in 1997 created the National Coalition to Protect Political Freedom, which -- in the name of "civil liberties" -- sought to overturn a law making it illegal for anyone to provide “material support” for terrorist organizations, and authorizing the U.S. government to use secret evidence in terrorism investigations.

A few years later, the hidden motives underlying Al-Arian's crusade for "civil liberties" became apparent when the FBI came into possession of some 500 videotapes of conferences in which Al-Arian had participated, where funds had been raised to aid terrorism efforts overseas; where Al-Arian had condemned Israel and praised “the river of blood that gushes forth and does not extinguish, from butchery to butchery, and from martyrdom to martyrdom, from jihad to jihad”; and where Al-Arian had clearly shown himself to be the North American leader of the terorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The FBI further learned that Al-Arian had connections to the convicted terrorist Omar Abdel Rahman, to Hamasofficial Mohammed Sakr, to the high-ranking Sudanese terrorist Hassan Turbai, and to Islamic Jihad co-founder Abdel Aziz-Odeh. Notwithstanding this incriminating evidence, civil-liberties groups like the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights rushed to Al-Arian's defense.

Another modern-day civil-liberties icon is Ramsey Clark, who served as U.S. Attorney General under President Lyndon Johnson. In 1991 Clark founded the International Action Center, which serves as an umbrella foundation for a host of civil-liberties and anti-war groups and is staffed by members of the Workers World Party, a Marxist-Leninist vanguard. For decades, Clark has consistently denounced American foreign policy and its related military campaigns, from the Vietnam War, to the Iraq War, to the broader war on terror.

Conversely, Clark has backed myriad groups, governments, and individuals with rabidly anti-American, and even terrorist, agendas, including: the North Vietnamese Communists in the 1960s; Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979-80; Libya's President Muammar Qadhafi in the 1980s; the PLO terrorists who murdered an elderly American Jew aboard an Italian cruise ship in 1986; Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in 1990, even as the dictator's military was conducting a brutal invasion of Kuwait; the Islamic terrorists who carried out the 1993 World Trade Center bombing; the four men who helped orchestrate the deadly 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania; and the Islamic terrorists held by U.S. authorities at the Guantanamo Bay detention center post-9/11.

Yet another hero of the civil-liberties establishment is Charles Clark Kissinger, a prominent member of the Revolutionary Communist Party. Kissinger began his public activism in the early 1960s when he served as the national secretary of Students for a Democratic Society, the leading radical organization of its day. He also worked closely with Fred Hampton and the Black Panther Party. A fervent supporter of the late Mao Zedong’s Communist regime in China, Kissinger continues to enjoy the backing of the Maoist Internationalist Movement.

In 1987 Kissinger created "Refuse & Resist!" (R&R) -- on whose national council he continues to serve. Kissinger and his R&R allies hold a grim view of an American culture allegedly rife with "white supremacy," violence against women, and "xenophobic attacks ... on anything foreign."

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Kissinger created the anti-war group Not In Our Name, which condemned the American government's "injustices" carried out in pursuit of "endless war"; its greed-driven "transfusions of blood for oil"; its determination to "erode [our] freedoms"; and its eagerness to "invade countries, bomb civilians, kill more children, [and annihilate] families on foreign soil.”

"The problem in this country," says Kissinger, can be traced to one root cause: "the oppressive system of capitalism that exploits people all over the world, that destroys our planet, that oppresses minority people, that sends people to the death chambers in droves. That is a problem that has to be done away with." "Revolution is the solution," Kissinger expands.

An influential ideological ally of Kissinger was the late Michael Ratner, former president of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the National Lawyers Guild. Ratner, who identified the late Che Guevara as his lifelong hero, was the individual most responsible for the legal campaign aimed at shutting down the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba. Years before Guantanamo began to be used as a prison for Muslim terror suspects, Ratner and CCR were already defending such notorious Islamists as Omar Abdel RahmanMousa Abu Marzook, Mazin Assi (who firebombed a New York synagogue), and Moataz Al-Hallak (a Texas imam suspected of having close links to al Qaeda and the 9/11 hijackers). 

Immediately after 9/11, Ratner began taking steps to attract major U.S law firms to his campaign against the war on terror. Citing a concern for “civil liberties,” he publicly condemned virtually every aspect of the Bush administration's response to the 9/11 attacks: the Patriot Act; profiling techniques targeting people of Middle Eastern extraction; the establishment of a Department of Homeland Security; the granting of greater surveillance powers to the FBI and CIA; and the looming U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. 

In March 2002, Ratner explained his views on the origins of anti-American terrorism: “If the U.S. government truly wants its people to be safer and wants terrorist threats to diminish, it must make fundamental changes in its foreign policies ... particularly its unqualified support for Israel, and its embargo of Iraq, its bombing of Afghanistan, and its actions in Saudi Arabia. [These] continue to anger people throughout the region, and to fertilize the ground where terrorists of the future will take root.”

Ratner was a longtime admirer of Philip Agee, the former CIA agent who became a Communist and (in the 1970s) publicly identified hundreds of fellow agents, at least one of whom -- Richard Welch -- was murdered shortly thereafter. When Agee (who subsequently fled to Cuba to avoid prosecution for treason) died in January 2008, Ratner eulogized him as one of those rare individuals "who find the courage to expose criminal misconduct by their own governments."


                                SEE ALSO

* Civil Liberties Advocates

Civil Liberties Groups

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