I have in my possession a list of 99 traitors in the highest level of the American government.
Their treason is ignorant of party and political ideology. It is not grounded in any core principles or beliefs ? indeed, it is the opposite. It is a treason of emotion, of fear, and I do not believe the traitors even know they are guilty.
Nevertheless, this treason may pose a greater threat to the United States of the founding fathers than any double agents, terrorists or military adversaries in the last century. Worst of all, they have performed this treason not in defiance of the people they govern, but in accordance with their express will.
This traitorous act, executed last Thursday night, was ironically titled the “Strengthening and Uniting America Act,” and its 99 conspirators are all members of the United States Senate. Ninety-six of them voted in favor of this decidedly anti-American bill, and three abstained from voting against it. Only Wisconsin senator Russ Feingold, perhaps learning from the mistakes of his state’s most infamous former senator, found the wisdom to vote
The bill is not treasonous in giving away secrets to the enemy or putting American lives in danger; it is actually designed to do the opposite. But, in this way, the treachery of the bill is much worse ? it does not directly attack American citizens but rather the founding principles under which they live. It is a betrayal of Madison, Jefferson and Hamilton, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. It is a betrayal of the very ideals that define our nation, and thus it becomes an attack far more dangerous to the existence of America as we know it than any terrorist action.
The “Uniting and Strengthening America Act” includes provisions that allow the government to conduct searches of homes and offices, computers files and desk drawers, for any investigation without notification. It makes a crime out of “domestic terrorism,” defining terrorism with enough vagueness as to possibly charge nonviolent dissenters with it. It gives the CIA the power to gather intelligence on its own citizens, even law-abiding ones. It gives the FBI a virtual blank check for tapping the phones of Americans. And it makes formerly private student information widely available for use and distribution by government agencies.
Worst of all, though the bill was designed to confront the present threat of terrorism in this country, the Senate version offered no sunset provisions for it. Given the difficulty of convincing the government to abdicate power once it has taken it, the Senate version of the bill effectively makes these measures permanent.
Of course, the senators still believe it was “the appropriate thing to do” in the wake of the Sept. 11 tragedy. They believe it was appropriate to ignore the words of John Stuart Mill, who warned, “a state which dwarfs its men … even for beneficial purposes, will find that with small men no great thing can really be accomplished.” They believe it was appropriate to fly in the face of Woodrow Wilson, who said, “the history of liberty is a history of limitations of government power, not the increase of it.”
They believe it was appropriate to defy Benjamin Franklin, who said, “those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.”
But most importantly, they believed it was appropriate to negate the Constitution itself, whose author wrote that its foundation lied in creating a nation that would “oblige the government to control itself.”
There are those, however, who argue the present times are much different than those of Madison and Jefferson, and I wholeheartedly agree: There is much less danger today. Those men served in a war where losing meant being hanged. They fought for American cities on American soil, with certain death only a few military defeats or diplomatic mistakes away. Madison did not see a plane crash into a building in Washington; he saw Washington’s buildings burned to the ground by an invading army in the War of 1812.
Yet all of these great men refused to trade liberty for security, for that meant a self-defeat of the very causes the country was founded upon.
Others argue we owe it to the victims of the terrorist bombing to ensure these events cannot happen again. I argue we owe a far greater debt to the hundreds of thousands of Americans who voluntarily died for the liberty of this country and its citizens, from the Revolution and Civil War to World War II. Some constitutional rights were suspended in those wars, to be certain, but these suspensions were known to be temporary; they did not authorize the indefinite seizure of these rights by the government.
Perhaps I will be called un-American in charging these 99 senators, these representatives of American government, of treason. But I would rather live in the United States with a guarantee of liberty than live in a “Strengthened and United America” without this promise. If the government is given the power to perform intruding surveillance and imprison any citizens they subjectively believe might someday cause a problem, regardless of whether they are actually guilty or suspected of a crime, we would surely feel more secure from terrorism. But we would feel less secure from the zeal of a well-meaning, but ultimately totalitarian, Big Brother government.
In the last month, those who have refused to blindly trust the government in this time of fear have been accused of being unpatriotic. Those who question the wisdom of handing over fundamental liberties, like Feingold, have been trampled by the hysterical mob.
They might say that, in writing this column, I am not showing a love for America. But in asking our government to refrain from peeling away the very liberty our forefathers died to protect, I believe I am.