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Sherwood Ross: Arbitrary Rule Comes To America

Arbitrary Rule Comes To America

By Sherwood Ross

Doug Thompson, the “Capitol Hill Blue” E-zine founder and a guy who has a knack for reporting events from inside the White House first, says he can’t board an airliner. He’s on a Federal “No Fly” terrorist “watch list.” Thompson recently wrote Bush told his staffers the Constitution is “just a goddamned piece of paper” and Bush seems to be out to prove him right.

I don’t know Thompson but I do have a slight acquaintanceship with John Graham, a former State Department career officer who served in Viet Nam---who also made the list. Graham recently got a standing ovation at the conclusion of a talk to West Point cadets. An inspiring man, he runs “the Giraffe Project,” dedicated to American heroes who “stick their necks” out.

“Time” magazine once devoted its “Americana” page to Graham’s outfit and he’s the recipient of numerous honors and awards. When Graham tried to find out why he was on the list, they wouldn’t tell him, of course.

Let’s use some common sense. Supposedly, there are 80,000 Americans on the list. Is it believable there are so many potential terrorists? If an individual commits a terrorist crime, or urges one, fine, make an arrest and have a trial. But to ban people from flying on “suspicion,” with no charges, no trial, and no way to clear their names? Big Brother is watching. He’s here. Now.

This is arbitrary injustice. It’s the hallmark of how the totalitarian state operates. It’s government by whim. It’s capriciousness. It’s I-say-so-and-I’m-the-Decider despotism. Once upon a time, when Josef Stalin heard a school teacher criticize him, he packed 30,000 teachers off to the Gulag. Hardly a day passed when Stalin’s NKVD didn’t bring him a list of names, maybe 500, maybe 3,500, marked for execution. Did he review each case? Ha! He’d sign the paper and hand it to his No 2, Molotov, who would scribble the counter-sign, and that was the end of them.

Those on the list didn’t have to be “terrorists,” just critics of the paranoid nuthouse Stalin called Soviet Russia. They didn’t have to be critics, either. Some were just “unlucky” in they happened to teach school or because Stalin happened to be rounding up army officers or Jews or folks who had received foreign visitors in their homes. Bystanders watching their neighbors dragged from their homes cried, “If only Stalin knew!” Except Stalin was the criminal architect in charge of the arrests and murders.

Hitler’s thugs operated the same way. Many a man who “looked Jewish” was beaten up by the brown shirts. People were arrested and murdered based on their faith, ancestry, or appearance. (Also, if they lived in a good apartment or had a bank account worth looting.) And not only Jews and Gypsies were martyred. Twelve hundred Catholic priests died in Dachau.

It’s a given the totalitarian state must have its “devils.” And the totalitarian Pig-in-Charge decides personally on how to punish them. One form of torture Hitler used was psychological: prisoners weren’t told how long they’d be in prison and they got no lawyers or trials.

Well, President George W. Bush has 500 captives locked up in Gitmo the same way, some for three and four years now. Many of the innocent among them are wondering ---- just like those on the Federal No Fly list --- what am I being charged with? And the U.S. military and CIA have arrested and tortured hundreds of men around the world with no court orders. It’s arbitrary. It’s not based on legal procedure; it’s government by zealots.

Two years ago, Washington invoked the USA Patriot Act to revoke the visa for Tariq Ramadan, an Islamic scholar. The ACLU is saying he was denied entry because of his politics. (He’s a moderate.) According to Knight-Ridder, “The Bush administration has never fully explained its decision to revoke Ramadan’s visa…” Of course not! Dictatorships don’t have to explain nothin’ to nobody. They’re arbitrary and capricious.

U.S. counsels are also arbitrarily rejecting foreign youngsters who apply for visas to study in America. There are countless reports of rejections for ridiculous reasons. One student who applied was told if he wanted to go to a real college he would be admitted, but a community college didn’t count. The result is American universities are losing students to Mexico, Spain, and other countries that still have sane admissions policies.

Add it all up: denial of a citizen’s right to travel; a war based on lies; men held in prison indefinitely; torture. Got the picture? I’ll spell it for you: t-o-t-a-l-i-t-a-r-i-a-n-i-s-m.


(Sherwood Ross is an American who writes about 20th century history. Reach him at sherwoodr1 @ ).

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