I have been told a thousand times at least, in the years I have spent reporting on the astonishing and repugnant abuses, lies and failures of the Bush administration, to watch my back. "Be careful," people always tell me. "These people are capable of anything. Stay off small planes, make sure you aren't being followed." A running joke between my mother and me is that she has a "safe room" set up for me in her cabin in the woods, in the event I have to flee because of something I wrote or said.Me, too! Me, too!!!!!
I always laughed and shook my head whenever I heard this stuff. Extreme paranoia wrapped in the tinfoil of conspiracy, I thought. This is still America, and these Bush fools will soon pass into history, I thought. I am a citizen, and the First Amendment hasn't yet been red-lined, I thought.
Matters are different now.
It seems, perhaps, that the people who warned me were not so paranoid. It seems, perhaps, that I was not paranoid enough. Legislation passed by the Republican House and Senate, legislation now marching up to the Republican White House for signature, has shattered a number of bedrock legal protections for suspects, prisoners, and pretty much anyone else George W. Bush deems to be an enemy . . .
Underneath all this, however, is where the paranoia sets in.
Underneath all this is the definition of "enemy combatant" that has been established by this legislation. An "enemy combatant" is now no longer just someone captured "during an armed conflict" against our forces. Thanks to this legislation, George W. Bush is now able to designate as an "enemy combatant" anyone who has "purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States."
Consider that language a moment. "Purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States" is in the eye of the beholder, and this administration has proven itself to be astonishingly impatient with criticism of any kind. The broad powers given to Bush by this legislation allow him to capture, indefinitely detain, and refuse a hearing to any American citizen who speaks out against Iraq or any other part of the so-called "War on Terror."
If you write a letter to the editor attacking Bush, you could be deemed as purposefully and materially supporting hostilities against the United States. If you organize or join a public demonstration against Iraq, or against the administration, the same designation could befall you. One dark-comedy aspect of the legislation is that senators or House members who publicly disagree with Bush, criticize him, or organize investigations into his dealings could be placed under the same designation. In effect, Congress just gave Bush the power to lock them up.
By writing this essay, I could be deemed an "enemy combatant." It's that simple, and very soon, it will be the law. I always laughed when people told me to be careful. I'm not laughing anymore.
In case I disappear, remember this. America is an idea, a dream, and that is all. We have borders and armies and citizens and commerce and industry, but all this merely makes us like every other nation on this Earth. What separates us is the idea, the simple idea, that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are our organizing principles. We can think as we please, speak as we please, write as we please, worship as we please, go where we please. We are protected from the kinds of tyranny that inspired our creation as a nation in the first place.
That was the idea. That was the dream. It may all be over now, but once upon a time, it existed. No good idea ever truly dies. The dream was here, and so was I, and so were you.
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