THE “TERROR WATCH LIST”—A GOOD IDEA? A GOOD IDEA GONE BAD? OR A BAD IDEA ALL ALONG?
“Someone must have been telling lies about Josef K., he knew he had done nothing wrong but, one morning, he was arrested. . . . But even that is all beside the point, the main question is: Who is issuing the indictment?” “The Trial,” a novel by Franz Kafka, published in 1925
Who is issuing the indictment, indeed? Unlike Josef K., the protagonist, in Franz Kafka’s insightful allegory, we, Americans, don’t live in a dictatorship. But, is that true? Was that statement once true, but true no longer?
How is it that, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union. . .” has devolved into “We the Government of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union. . . . ?” The phrases—“insure domestic Tranquility,” “provide for the common defense,” “promote the general Welfare”—are lost in time. The federal Government and the media circus subsume these phrases, appearing in the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, under the ubiquitous, deceptive expression, “national security”—an expression that appears nowhere in it.
What hath this Government in the name of “We the People” wrought for the People.
Understand: Nothing—absolutely nothing—Congress, or the United States President, or the President’s legions of bureaucrats do is more invidious and insidious than disemboweling and dismembering the Bill of Rights in the name of national security. We should not excuse or laud emotional trumpet calls for action before pondering the legality and ethical merits of such Government action. We should not excuse or laud emotional trumpet calls for action before considering their impact on our free Republic. We should not excuse or laud emotional trumpet calls for action before recognizing their cost—the possible loss of our precious rights and liberties. For, once lost, they’re lost forever.
When emotions run high, restraint is required. The denial of gun sales to anyone whose name appears on the Government’s “terror watch list” is a recent proposal bubbling to the surface as a result of the recent carnage wrought by a home-grown self-radicalized Islamic terrorist. On Monday, June 20, 2016, the U.S. Senate voted on a measure that would do just that: preclude a person from purchasing a firearm if his or her name appears on the Government’s “terror watch list.” Fortunately, sane heads prevailed. The measure was voted down. But, we may expect further attempts by antigun Legislators in both the House and the Senate to push a measure like this one, through. [Breaking News: At the moment, June 22, 2016, the foes of the Second Amendment are staging a sit-in on the Floor of the House. They won’t “sit contented” until the Second Amendment is stricken from the U.S. Constitution].
Secret Government lists, such as the “terror watch list” and the “no fly list,”—and perhaps others, of which we are unaware—are problematic in a free, democratic Republic. For, once an American’s name appears on a secret government watch list, his or her rights and liberties, guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution, are in jeopardy. More to the point, such lists enable the federal Government to deny an American citizen his or her rights and liberties absent any charge of criminal wrong-doing. The Government, at the stroke of a pen, denies a person his or her rights and liberties without notice, without hearing, without reasonable means to challenge the inclusion of their name, in open court.
Understand, we aren’t saying or suggesting those who seek to harm innocent Americans should have access to firearms. And, those Senators who voted down the “terror watch list” measure, on June 20, 2016, aren’t tacitly suggesting that American citizens who seek to harm innocent Americans should have access to firearms. These U.S. Senators have obviously asked themselves—and we need ask ourselves too—this profound question: Are we, Americans, ready to forsake, as a Nation, our sacred rights and liberties for the illusion of, or a mere modicum of, collective security? Is this something a free Republic, founded on a Bill of Rights and on a Constitution establishing a federal Government with carefully defined, demarcated, and limited power and authority, should accept or tolerate?
The proposal came before the Senate—cavalierly bandied about by those who, despite assertions to the contrary, care not one whit about our Bill of Rights. That measure would deny Americans due process of law, a right guaranteed to all Americans under the Fifth Amendment. That measure would also deny Americans their natural right to keep and bear arms, a right codified and guaranteed to Americans under the Second Amendment.
Millions of law-abiding citizens exercise their sacred right to keep and bear arms. They take responsibility for their own self-defense. They pose no threat to self or others. Are they expected to sacrifice that right, codified in the Second Amendment? Is that not asking too much of Americans? Would not that sacrifice operate as a capitulation to Islamic terrorism? Would not that sacrifice eviscerate our Bill of Rights and destroy one Amendment, in particular, that proclaims our uniqueness: that Government exists—truly exists—at the pleasure of the People and does not exist as a right unto itself?
Lost in discussion—because of the frenzy of the moment—is any mention, any hint, how or whether Government intends to protect Americans from Islamist terrorists without infringing the sacred right of millions of law-abiding Americans who wish “to keep and bear arms.” Some Americans, we know, have no regard for that right. They seek to undermine it—are even counting on undermining it—in part, through application of the “terror watch list” to gun sales. They relish using a disastrous event to further a wicked agenda.
What do we really know about this secret “list?”
Consider: “The number of names on the terror watch list has grown steeply in the past decade, compounding the problem of inaccuracies. Whereas 288,000 names were on the list in 2005, the number had grown to 1.1 million by 2009. A Justice Department audit of the watch list in 2009 revealed a thirty-five percent rate of error, and disclosed that in seventy-two percent of the cases, the FBI failed to respond to these errors by removing the person from the watch list in a timely manner.” “Symposium: Inside America’s Criminal Justice System: The Supreme Court On The Rights Of The Accused And The Incarcerated: Bright Lines, Black Bodies: The Florence Strip Search Case And Its Dire Repercussions,” 46 Akron L. Review, 433, 461-462, Teresa A. Miller, Professor of Law, State University of New York, at Buffalo (SUNY—Buffalo)(2013).
The critical problem presented by the Government’s “terror watch list” and other such “watch lists” is four-fold. One, an American loses his or her rights and liberties before commission of any crime or before probable cause exists an American has even considered committing a crime. This is a “Minority Report” scenario. Two, the Government’s “terror watch list” is secret. American citizens don’t know their name appears on the list until they seek to exercise a fundamental right and find they cannot. That alone should give all Americans pause. Three, fighting to remove one’s name from a secret list is extraordinarily difficult. The Government condemns an American citizen in secret, without notice, without hearing, without satisfactory legal recourse. Four, since the “terror watch list” is secret, the Government can add names to it at will—indiscriminately. This action results in millions of American citizens divested of their Second Amendment “right to keep and bear arms.”
The existence of secret Government “watch lists” in a free society—in a free republic—makes mincemeat of one’s rights and liberties. True Congressional oversight doesn’t and cannot exist, regardless of assertions to the contrary. Such feigned oversight is window dressing, nothing more. In the name of “national security” the Government clamps down on one’s beliefs, thoughts, actions, even absent criminal wrong-doing.
One academic writer says, “the insulation of national security conduct from external review obscures hard questions surrounding liberty and security, undermining the rule of law.” See, “Essay: Rule Of Law Tropes In National Security,” 129 Harvard Law Review 1566, 1566 (2016), Shirin Sinnar, Assistant Professor of Law, Stanford law School.”
The problem boils down to this: whether the Government ought to deny an American citizen’s rights and liberties merely for displaying odd character traits. The existence of a “terror watch list” creates tension with the Bill of Rights.
The existence and use of a “terror watch list” raises a host of questions. Do you know the factors Government uses when placing a person on a “terror watch list?” Do you know any factor?” Can you know how those factors, change, grow, evolve through time? If your name appears on a “terror watch list,” how do you contest that? What is the monetary cost for fighting Government action? How does the Government remove a name when it uncovers a mistake? When would Government act to remove a name—your name— appearing on the “list,” mistakenly? Would Government remove a name appearing on the list mistakenly? Why has the list grown from a few thousand names to tens of thousands, to hundreds of thousands, to over one million in the last several years?
Suppose a person seeks to join or associate with a political group the Government targets. Would that not conflict with the free association clause of the First Amendment? Suppose a person seeks to affiliate with the Ku Klux Klan, the American Nazi Party, the American Communist Party? Should that person’s name appear on a “terror watch list?” If so, how far do we go? Suppose a person seeks to affiliate with the Green Party, the Constitution Party, the Libertarian Party, or with various groups comprising the “Tea Party.” Which affiliation warrants placing an American citizen’s name on the “terror watch list?” Should any affiliation warrant placing a person’s name on the “terror watch list.” The First Amendment sets forth in principal part, as proposed by and as elucidated by one founder of our Nation, James Madison: “The people shall not be deprived or abridged of their right to speak, to write, or to publish their sentiments; and the freedom of the press, as one of the great bulwarks of liberty, shall be inviolable. The people shall not be restrained from peaceably assembling and consulting for their common good.” We have seen the insidious effects of fear-mongering before: the infamous McCarthy hearings of the 1950s, during the “Cold War.”
We are now witnessing a new twist on an old ploy: an attempt to use a secret Government “terror watch list” to deny to hundreds of thousands, and conceivably eventually, to millions of Americans their natural right to keep and bear arms.
Ought the Government suspend the civil liberties of potentially millions of law-abiding Americans if Government believes, rightly or wrongly, such harsh measures will reduce the carnage created by a few? Are we, as Americans, prepared to sacrifice, conceivably, all rights and liberties for the benefit of national security?
Cannot an American citizen hold “extreme” views without fearing Government reprisal? Is it not the right of an American to hold and display views another American might find extreme, even distasteful? Are not American citizens slowly squeezed into a tight container as Government dictates to the public what is fit and proper thought, belief, and action?
Are you willing to sacrifice free speech? Are you prepared to surrender your firearms? Are you willing to sacrifice freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures? Are you willing to abandon the writ of Habeas Corpus? Are you agreeable to forgoing the right to a fair and public trial? Are you prepared to give up friends and associates because the Government doesn’t approve of their idiosyncrasies? How would the founders of our Nation respond to these questions if posed to them? Do you have answers to these questions? If so, sound off.Copyright © 2016 Roger J Katz (Towne Criour), Stephen L. D’Andrilli (Publius) All Rights Reserved.