Preserving Constitutional Liberties

The passage of the Patriot Act and its continuing extensions represents a most serious threat to our constitutional protections contained in the Bill of Rights and subsequent Amendments, as well as other civil rights legislation enacted to protect the citizens from abuses of government power.  Revelations about the treatment of prisoners taken abroad, the denial of due process, and flaunting of our Constitution by assassinations of  American citizens and their residents have severely tarnished the reputation and standing of this country with the rest of the world.  The imprisonment of PFC Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning for almost nine months in solitary USMC confinement at Quantico and subsequently an Army stockade for a total of 1,000 days before being charged and his Abu Ghraib style mistreatment (forced to stand naked) by the marines were outrageous and a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).  The UCMJ mandates that charges must be filed within 14 days after confinement.  PFC Manning was only transferred to Army custody after 600,000 Amnesty International protests were sent to the White House.  PFC Manning was given a 30 year sentence imposed by a single military judge without a jury trial.  Apparently, the offense of releasing a video of an American helicopter deliberately making two passes to gun down an unarmed group of Reuters video journalists in the Middle East was a greater threat to national security than the event itself!  After serving several more years of imprisonment, Chelsea was given a presidential pardon in 2017.  In contrast, Robert Hanssen, the worst traitor in American history since Benedict Arnold, was accorded full constitutional protections and was able to preserve full spousal pension benefits for his innocent wife.   In my opinion, Chelsea Manning’s detention and abuse while imprisoned and conviction by a "Stalinist star chamber" trial were direct violations of the President’s oath and duty to preserve and protect the Constitution and were the most serious of impeachable crimes.

Recent revelations about the extent of domestic spying upon American citizens in direct defiance of our laws and traditions are the worst threat to our civil liberties since the witch hunts of the McCarthy era.  What makes the current abuses of power so worrisome is the fact that modern computer-based information technology has given the government vast surveillance and intrusive capabilities beyond anything remotely imaginable 50 years ago.  Every email message, every telephone call, every electronic financial transaction, every computer based information search, all data transmitted by land lines or the airwaves, even mail processed by electronic sorters, most likely have now been  accessed and collated into totally secret information profiles and electronic data sets for every resident and visitor in this country.  Even street lights could now be used for surreptitious surveillance.

There is no effective safeguard to prevent the electronic surveillance and intrusion capabilities of the NSA that has been extended to invade the privacy of all persons living within the United States.  Unfortunately, the passage of the National Defense Appropriation Act containing a provision allowing the military to detain indefinitely citizens and others living in the United States by large majorities in both the House and the Senate is the final and most worrisome threat to our civil liberties.   The then President had the opportunity to threaten a veto of this onerous legislation but chose not to do so, stating that his Administration would not abuse the power granted by the Act.   The issuance of National Security Letters (NSL) by the FBI should be immediately suspended until it is made subject to rigorous prior judicial search warrant authorization with the rights restored for all recipients to be represented by legal counsel and seek injunctive relief.  At the present time, recipients of these National Security Letters have no legal recourse to challenge their issuance or protest the demands made upon them by the FBI.  They are currently forbidden to speak with anyone about them, even their own lawyers.  Monthly reporting of the number, kind, and general categories of previous NSL issuances should be made public for each state and U. S. territory affected.  Special closed door quarterly briefings of each state's assembled Congressional delegation should be implemented to report about and discuss the number, details, and specific purposes justifying the issuance of these letters in that state.  As the first item discussed by the next Congress, the Patriot Act must be reviewed and abolished to restore the civil liberties threatened by its current provisions and their ongoing enforcement.  Similarly, the recent activities of the FBI should be reviewed for their intrusion upon the privacy of law-abiding citizens.  The abuses of constitutional liberties committed by the FBI and others during the 1960s must not be permitted to recur.  Trashing our constitutional protections under the guise of saving them is as illogical as the Vietnam War excuse for “destroying the village in order to save it”.

Finally, the legal fiction that corporations are entitled to the full protection as persons under the Bill of Rights by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision must be repealed by Congressional legislation and/or a constitutional amendment.  The pernicious power of unlimited corporate money corrupting our political process is an outrage and must be ended if truly representative Democracy is to be preserved in the United States. If corporations now have the same constitutional rights as citizens, why aren't they taxed upfront off the top as human beings are before receiving their sales receipts instead of any residual (i.e., profit) left at the end of the year?  Our sales of our labor are no different than corporations sales of their products and services and corporations: both should be taxed on the same basis!

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