Friday, December 28, 2007

Connecting The Dots, Fear Mongering or Overreaction?

December 28, 2007

In April of 2007, California Democrat, Jane Harman, introduced HR 1955, the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007, to “study violent radicalization and homegrown terrorism using a method that has worked in the past: the establishment of a National Commission.”

The House version of the bill passed with a 404 to 6 vote in the House on October 23, 2007, moving it on to the Senate with little public fanfare, but igniting a firestorm across the internet and in editorials.

Bruce Fein, a constitutional lawyer and Chairman of the American Freedom Agenda, penned one such commentary in the December 27, 2007 Washington Times, “Police in thought pursuit.”

S 1959, the Senate version, Mr. Fein claims is, “probably the greatest assault on free speech and association in the United States since the 1938 creation of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).” Perhaps trying to draw a comparison to disgraced and embattled Senator Joseph McCarthy, who was not part of the House Un-American Activities Committee, Mr. Fein continues, “Few if any care about or understand either freedom of expression or the Thought Police dangers of S. 1959,” adding, “…the Act aims to identify and stigmatize persons and groups who hold thoughts the government decrees correlate with homegrown terrorism, for example, opposition to the Patriot Act or the suspension of the Great Writ of habeas corpus.”

Writing for Slate, Dahlia Lithwick said last month, “…you'll be delighted to learn that the legislation has, at least, the virtue of fighting imaginary problems with pretend solutions,” regarding this bill.

Earlier in November, Ralph E. Shaffer and R. William Robinson penned in the Baltimore Sun, “The proposed commission is a menace through its power to hold hearings, take testimony and administer oaths, an authority granted to even individual members of the commission, little Joe McCarthy’s, who will tour the country to hold their own private hearings.”

Returning to Bruce Fein, we read, “The Act inflates the danger of homegrown terrorism manifold to justify creating a marquee National Commission on the Prevention of Violent Radicalization and Ideologically Based Violence (Commission) in the legislative branch. Since September 11, 2001, no American has died from homegrown terrorism, while about 120,000 have been murdered.”

While Mr. Fein is correct the since September 11, 2001, no American has died from a terrorist attack, it should be noted that In May 2007, six men were arrested for allegedly plotting to attack Fort Dix, in June 2007, four men were charged with plotting to attack JFK Airport by blowing up jet fuel tanks, in September 2005, 4 were arrested for suspected terrorist plots to attack US military installations, Israeli government facilities and Jewish synagogues in the Los Angeles area, recruited and planned while incarcerated in a Sacramento, California prison. At least two have since pled guilty.

In August 2006, 24 were arrested in the UK, suspected of plotting to blow up as many as ten aircraft in flight over the United States.

Often, these plots were uncovered accidentally or by chance, as crimes often are, discovered while investigating an unrelated crime.

Speaking before the House in support of the bill this past October, Congresswoman Harman said, “Madam Speaker, free speech, espousing even very radical beliefs, is protected by our Constitution. But violent behavior is not. Our plan must be to intervene before a person crosses that line separating radical views from violent behavior, to understand the forces at work on the individual and the community, to create an environment that discourages disillusionment and alienation, that instills in young people a sense of belonging and faith in the future.” She continued, “Radicalization is not that well understood, and through this bill we will take an in-depth look at how it occurs. The commission provided for in H.R. 1955 would give our government an in-depth, multidisciplinary look at radicalization. And why is that important? Because no one has the single answer on this.” (Congressional Record H11859, October 23, 2007)

In defense of the legislation, the Majority Staff of the Committee on Homeland Security released a fact sheet reiterating, “The purpose of H.R. 1955 is to study violent radicalization and homegrown terrorism,” adding, “This approach worked prior to September 11, 2001 with the National Commission on Terrorism, which set the stage for America’s counter terrorism strategy prior the September 11 attacks. It worked again with the National Commission on the Terrorists Attacks upon the United States, which in the wake of the attacks made recommendations that strengthened and solidified our current approach to fighting terrorism both domestically and abroad. This new Commission will follow their example and serve our country by providing answers to the indigenous threat of violent radicalization and homegrown terrorism.”

Jeff Stein, writing in the Congressional Quarterly called it “Another Homeland Boondoggle,” asking, “Who needs to spend $22 million on a commission to study homegrown terrorism?” Answering himself, he says, “Only Congress, of course. It thinks the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, think tanks, universities, journalists and independent scholars aren’t doing enough.”

Speaking in opposition after passage of the House bill, Libertarian/Republican Texas Congressman Ron Paul, note for his desire to withdraw from the War on Terror, said on December 5, 2007, “This legislation focuses the weight of the U.S. government inward toward its own citizens under the guise of protecting us against ‘violent radicalization.’”

Paul continues, “Previous acts of ideologically-motivated violence, though rare, have been resolved successfully using law enforcement techniques, existing laws against violence and our court system. Even if there were a surge of ‘violent radicalization,’ a claim for which there is no evidence, there is no reason to believe that our criminal justice system is so flawed and weak as to be incapable of trying and punishing those who perpetrate violent acts.”

Perhaps Representative Paul is unaware of Portland, Oregon’s Mayor and City Council withdrawing from the FBI counter-terrorism task force because the FBI would not grant the Mayor, Tom Potter, a Security Clearance and access to classified information.

Enjoying such broad bipartisan support, facing what looks like an easy passage in the Senate and most likely to be signed into law by the president, several questions need answered about this bill

Would the proposed money be better spent supporting existing counter-terrorism efforts?

Could this return to the intrusive measures perceived used by Senator McCarthy, even if many of his suspicions were largely proved true?

Do we even need a Congressional “study?”

Could it be an opening to infringement of our Constitutional Freedoms as some suspect?

Is it only a move by ‘do nothing’ politicians to appear to be on top of an over-rated threat?

Are opposer’s fears over rated and hyped?

Countering terrorism is serious business and our freedoms and liberties are just as serious. We, as free citizens, must look long and hard at this bill and act appropriately in contacting our Elected Officials about it.

Then, hope we made the right choice.


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