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UQ Wire: Rage, Rage, Against the Dying Light

Unanswered Questions: Thinking For Ourselves
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"Rage, Rage, Against the Dying Light"
Civil Liberties Since September 11th

by Jennifer Van Bergen
t r u t h o u t | Commentary
Monday, 9 September, 2002


Anniversaries of trauma are hard for survivors. Ceremonies, planes flying in formation, people gathering, news media chattering on. It is hard to hear the incessant voices of ghosts, of thousands of innocent people dying, of heroes who saved some or died trying, of survivors commenting, of people suffering, of brave souls who set forth to protect and defend us, of those who rule or those who are ruled, willingly or not -- all saying so much and so little.

What makes this anniversary harder is that since 9/11 our government has, in the name of democracy and freedom, repeatedly encroached on the one thing that makes this country worth fighting for: civil liberties.

September 11th ushered in an era of terror, yes. What shocks anew every day is how our own government has capitalized on our fears to frighten us into giving up those liberties. Ashcroft's behavior is appalling: essentially saying to Congress, "Pass these laws NOW, or you will have the blood of your own citizens on your hands," saying it is unpatriotic for Americans to question our government, saying the bare-breasted statute of justice should be covered.

Justice must be shrouded. It's a telling image.

The FBI coming out with new warnings every other day: the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statute of Liberty, apartment buildings, scuba divers in coastal waters, shipping containers at ports, and worst of all, phantom dirty bombers who can explode radioactive bombs anywhere.

What IS all this about?

I say once again that civil liberties can never be sacrificed. Not one. Not ever. Start down that road and you may never return.

Those who would take away sacred liberties are like vultures feeding on the weak.

It is important in such times to remain focused on what is essential. In the past year, our civil liberties have been put at grave risk.

But, there is something to be optimistic about. In the last few months, courts have begun to overturn some of the draconian laws put into effect after 9/11.

A federal judge in California recently ruled that the law enabling government to designate terrorists violates the First Amendment right of freedom of association.

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled only a week or so ago that secret deportation hearings are unconstitutional. Numerous state and federal courts have been echoing that refrain.

The secret Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act (FISA) court, ruling squarely against the Department of Justice last week, stated that FISA - which allows a lower standard of suspicion for foreign intelligence surveillance warrants than for criminal search warrants - cannot be used "primarily for a law enforcement purpose," as the DOJ demanded.

A federal court in D.C. refused to accept "a basic assertion by someone named Mobbs" -- a "special advisor" to the Defense Department - as the sole basis for holding a man incommunicado indefinitely.

Courts may be boring places and legal decisions may make your head spin, legal processes may take months or even years to complete, but without these, as imperfect as they are, we would all be lost.

On another front, what about grass roots activism?

Investigative journalist Kyle Hence of (UQ) continues to raise the question: Why has there been no independent investigation into 9/11? UQ is sponsoring an event at The New School in New York City on September 8th. According to UQ's website (where readers can go for more detailed information), "The evening will open with the world premiere of our new video project Aftermath: Unanswered Questions of 9/11 a co-production of Guerilla News Network and Unanswered Questions."

On August 26th, Senator Bill Nelson called for a National Commission to investigate 9/11.

Another writer, John "Splitting the Sky" Boncore, who has published a massive book about his experiences in prison and the insights he gained about our society and human condition, has written a treatise on another aspect of the fall of the World Trade Towers, which implicates Rudolph Guiliani. (Copy available from me or John at John travels around the United States and Canada speaking on Native American sovereignty and civil rights.

The Bill of Rights Defense Committee launched a campaign to have local municipalities resolve to work towards repealing or amending the USA PATRIOT Act and declare their areas "Civil Liberties Safe Zones." The campaign has spread to many other locales around the nation, now including numerous areas in Massachusetts; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Berkeley, California; Boulder and Denver, Colorado; and Carrboro, North Carolina. The ACLU of Broward Country, Florida is also launching a similar effort. The Defense Committee's proposed resolution and other helpful materials can be found at

There are many other efforts. Opponents of Bush frequently come out in numbers to protest him. Despite alarming efforts by the Administration to suppress these peaceful attempts to exercise our First Amendment right to speak, people keep going out and protesting.

Senators from the House Judiciary Committee issued a lengthy series of pointed questions to Ashcroft, asking him to justify the DOJ's use of and actions under the PATRIOT Act.

The media is slowing turning from all-out, blind support of Bush's warlike stance to a slow, awakening view of the incursions on civil liberties.

Amnesty International, the American Bar Association, the National Lawyer's Guild, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for National Security Studies, and a number of press organizations, as well as other groups, have released detailed critiques of the actions, proposals, and interpretations of the DOJ and Bush Administration.

Now, a year after the attacks, it is heartening that paranoia has not engulfed us, that many people are concerned about civil liberties and are working to ensure we do not lose them in the process of keeping our country safe.

A young woman wrote in 1809, recalling the American Revolution: "Young as I was (twelve years old when the war began), the word liberty so continually sounding in my ears seemed to convey an idea of everything that was desirable on earth - true that in attaining it, I was to see every present comfort abandoned -"

It reminds me of the words of Dylan Thomas in his poem, "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" --

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lighting they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Let us not forget our losses. Let us neither forget our liberties. Let us rage, rage against the dying of that light.


* - Jennifer Van Bergen is a contributing writer for truthout. She has a law degree from Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York, and is a faculty member of the New School University in New York where she teaches in the writing program.

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