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Of interest

Posted to Poetry and Politics

Not a bad comparative piece on US/Canadian fearmongering:

In this game, the terrorists are clearly winning

Mar. 15, 2003. 01:00 AM -THOMAS WALKOM -

If the Sept. 11 terrorists wanted to damage Western freedoms, they are succeeding beyond their wildest dreams.

Their success comes not from the attacks themselves. As dramatic as they were, they killed relatively few, did little damage to the U.S. economy and none to its military capability.

True, 3,044 people died in the Sept. 11, 2001, assaults on Washington, New York and Pennsylvania. But more than 15,000 Americans are murdered each year in straightforward criminal homicides.

Rather, the terrorists' victories stem from the reaction of the West. For the most devastating impact of the war on terrorism, subscribed to by every Western democracy, has not been on terrorists abroad, but on liberal societies at home.

In the United States, Britain and even Canada, freedoms and civil liberties that took centuries to put in place are being casually sloughed off. The United States has effectively nullified portions of its Bill of Rights for anyone — including any American citizen — that President George W. Bush declares an enemy combatant.

Canada has already brought down laws allowing people to be jailed without charge and is contemplating the mandatory fingerprinting of all residents, as well as measures that would give police unprecedented authority to snoop on e-mails, cell-phone calls and Internet traffic.

The agents of this dramatic change are governments, which argue that only drastic measures can defeat terror.

But more important, this whittling away of civil liberties has met with little opposition from the peoples of the Western democracies, who either do not notice what they are giving up or do not care.

Theoretically, it wasn't supposed to happen this way.

Soon after Sept. 11, Bush took to the airwaves to assure the world that while the terrorists were motivated by a desire to destroy democratic liberties, they would never succeed.

"We will not allow the enemy to win the war by changing our way of life or restricting our freedom," he pledged.

Osama bin Laden, however, had a different analysis.

"I tell you, freedom and human rights in America are doomed," the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks predicted in an Oct., 2001, television interview.

"The U.S. government," he continued, "will lead the American people — and the West in general — into an unbearable hell and a choking life. ...

"The values of this Western civilization under the leadership of America have been destroyed."

"Destroyed" may have been an exaggeration. Still, bin Laden's prophecy proved more accurate than Bush's.

Americans, who pride themselves on their prickly resistance to authority, have embraced measures that give their government extraordinary powers to arrest, jail and even torture suspects — all without the bother of laying charges.

The U.S. Constitution, which for more than 200 years has served as a template for civil libertarians (and which was the model for Canada's own Charter of Rights and Freedoms), has been derailed, warns the American Civil Liberties Union.

By simple order of the president, U.S. citizens have been labelled "enemy combatants" and jailed indefinitely — without being charged and without access to counsel.

Should those citizens or, indeed, any alleged terrorists turned over to the United States, be held in an American facility abroad, they are potentially subject to what authorities call intensive interrogation and what most would call torture.

At the U.S. army's prison in Bagram, Afghanistan, according to the New York Times, prisoners are hooded, shackled, deprived of food and water, prevented from sleeping and chained, arms spread, to the ceiling.

Britain, too, has put in place its own menu of harsh measures. But it is the low-key, understated case of Canada that is perhaps most curious.

Following Washington's lead, the federal government rammed through new, severe anti-terror laws.

But, so far, it has been reluctant to use them. Instead, it has focused on refugees and landed immigrants, using wide-ranging immigration powers that existed before Sept. 11 to detain a handful of suspects without formal charges and, in some cases, deport them without having to explain why.

In the area of privacy, however, the Canadian government has been quietly aggressive.

Privacy is an unusual right. Most civil liberties deal with actions — freedom to speak, freedom to write, freedom to practise one's religion.

By contrast, privacy is not about doing — it is about preventing anyone from knowing what you are doing.

The assumption is that if a person's actions are lawful, they are no one else's business.

For this reason, privacy is always viewed with some suspicion by governments and their security authorities. Secret policemen around the world argue that individuals who are behaving lawfully should not object to state surveillance.

Still, the right to privacy has been generally accepted in the West, the assumption being that governments should have to convince independent authorities — usually judges — before entering homes, opening mail and eavesdropping on conversations.

However, since Sept. 11, privacy has become a luxury. In the United States, the so-called Patriot Act, passed after the 2001 attacks, expanded greatly the ability of government agents to eavesdrop on private communications.

Draft legislation dubbed Patriot Act II would, if passed into law, allow government agencies to seize and keep DNA records of anyone suspected of supporting an organization designated as terrorist — even if the suspect were never charged.

As well, the Pentagon — with some resistance from Congress — is experimenting with what it calls a Total Information Awareness project that would be able to sift through all private and public electronic data banks in order to collect information on, literally, everybody.

For Canadians, events in the United States are always of more than academic interest. From the post-World War I Red Scare onward, Canada has always been influenced by security developments south of the border, even though Ottawa's actions are typically more muted than those of Washington.

So, too, today.

Following Bush's lead, the federal government is quietly pressing ahead with plans to gather and store information on all airline travellers. Following Bush's lead, it is quietly talking of radically new measures to monitor the Internet.

Perhaps anticipating Bush, it hints that it wants to fingerprint all Canadian residents.

In part, Ottawa is responding to the pressure of business.

Thanks to free trade, Canadian, U.S. and Mexican manufacturing production are integrated to a degree never before seen in North America. For Canadian business, keeping the border open to commercial traffic is crucial.

If aligning Canadian security arrangements with those of the Americans helps accomplish this, business argues, then the cost in individual freedom is worth it.

Or, as the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, a big-business lobby group, put it earlier this year: Canada and the U.S. must develop "shared approaches to ... intelligence and policing, a North American identity document and a shared institution to provide oversight."

"We are not living in our own little bubble here," Citizenship and Immigration Minister Denis Coderre told the Commons last month, defending his suggestion that Canada consider issuing compulsory identity cards that would include fingerprints, retinal scans or other so-called biometric identifiers.

Better for Canada to fingerprint its residents, he said, than have the Americans do so at the border.

Besides, he went on, law-abiding citizens would have nothing to fear from such a proposal. In fact, compulsory fingerprinting could prevent so-called identity theft, whereby criminals steal the drivers' licences and credit cards of others, and thereby protect "once and for all our most precious possession: our identity."

As for those, such as the opposition New Democrats, who worry that compulsory ID cards would be an affront to civil liberties, Coderre said they confuse privacy with anonymity.

"People are talking about the right to be anonymous, and I do not know if they have filed their income taxes lately, but in this world I think that everybody knows who everybody is. The time has come to take a stand."

Certainly, federal Privacy Commissioner George Radwanski has taken a stand. The former Liberal adviser and journalist (he was once editorial page editor of the Toronto Star) has become a savage critic of the Chrétien government's privacy record.

"This government has lost its moral compass," Radwanski wrote despairingly in his 2003 annual report to Parliament. "It appears to have become convinced that privacy must be sacrificed bit by bit, day by day, in pursuit of greater goods: reassuring a public frightened by the outrages of Sept. 11; mollifying an insistent U.S. government; meeting the wishes of police, security forces and other government institutions that have recognized the aftermath of Sept. 11 as an opportunity to expand their powers."

Radwanski is by no means an opponent of tighter security laws. In fact, he backs many of Ottawa's post-Sept. 11 actions.

The problem now, he says, is that the government is using terrorism as an excuse for measures that have little or nothing to do with national security.

While Radwanski's most public battles have been waged against government plans to give police long-term access to literally all information about all air travellers (what he calls the "big-brother database"), another scheme critiqued in his annual report could prove even more invasive.

This is the so-called lawful access scheme that, if implemented, would give police and security agencies unprecedented access to an individual's Internet and cellphone traffic.

Currently, police must obtain warrants to intercept e-mail or cellphone calls, as they do with letters and hard-wired phones.

Now, the government is suggesting that police and security authorities be given far broader authority to monitor, without the bother of a formal judicial-intercept warrant, everything an individual does on-line — the Web sites he visits, the e-mail addresses of his correspondents, the purchases he makes, credit-card information and, perhaps, even the content of his e-mail.

Martin Rudner, director of Carleton University's Canadian Centre of Intelligence and Security Studies, argues that in the age of terror, intelligence agencies must have broad authority to gather information, even if that information does not meet the evidentiary standards that judges require for warrants.

The problem, he says, is that terrorists quickly learn to circumvent existing laws. This then requires new laws that infringe more on individual rights.

"You do not build a legal regime that treats every citizen as a suspect," responds Radwanski. "You'll have everyone looking over his shoulder all of the time, like a totalitarian state."

Osama bin Laden would probably, mockingly, agree.

"You have claimed to be the vanguards of human rights," bin Laden is said to have written, in a so-called Letter to America that surfaced last fall.

"However, all of these things vanished when the mujahedeen (Sept. 11 terrorists) hit you, and then you implemented the methods of the same documented governments you used to curse."