The many examples of the Bush Administration's Infringment of Civil Rights (known to real Conservatives as "the Government's Latest Assault on the Constitution) are now many and varied enough to forge a new political concensus in opposition, which can span the ideological spectrum.
There is reason to fear that unless we begin to think in broad, strategic terms about a new bulwark against the unconstrained excesses of the State, future leaders, possessed of [even] less patriotism, integrity, or restraint than the current Administration may employ the 9/11 powers assumed by the executive in more self-serving, politically predjudicial ways than has the Bush/Cheney regime.
After 218 years, the constraints on government imposed by the Bill of Rights are every bit as relevant, valid, and important today as when they were adopted. The problem is that our 21st Century legal machinery is more complex, and those who exercise the levers of power often become confused. Its time to buttress that original wall with a stronger and more specific layer of protection, suited to modern jurisprudence. It is time that we consider criminal and civl penalties for violating the Bill of Rights...
If the Executive Orders and Attorneys General opinions of the Bush Administration on the arrest and detention of American citizens relative to Habeas corpus, warrantless search, seizure and domestic surveillance, the use of torture, etc. had been issued by a Democratic Administration in time of Peace, the political Right would have taken to the streets in rebellion.
Since the defeat of Saddam Hussein's government, and the Administration's declaration of "Mission Accomplished" on May 1st, 2003, the United States has been (at least, theoretically) "at peace" - the carnage of the ensuing occupation to the present day notwithstanding. It behooves those less progressive souls among us to ponder the question, "What, apart from the goodwill of the officials involved, protects any citizen against the use of the same totalitarian legal doctrines, against us?"
EXAMPLE: For authorities in Texas to storm a religious community based on a hoaxed phone tip from a known psychotic, and remove over 400 children from the the only home, parents, families, and friends they have ever known, one would think that the due process of law would be required. However, driven merely by our society's prevailing notions of betrothal, age of adulthood, and arranged marriage (which are not shared by the majority of human civilization), at the whim of unelected bureaucrats, state SWAT teams decimated a peaceful town, abbrogating the rights of its people to their religious liberties under the First Amendment.
One could cite a hundred more examples; a thousand - in all personal and social contexts, at every level of government, as well as those of the most pronounced variety made famous by the fanciful "War on Terror". The point is that neither the Administration's treatment of its domestic "suspects", nor the behavior of other federal, state, and local bureaucracies toward the citizenry faces any practical sanction to actually enforce the provisions of the U.S. Constitution's Bill of Rights.
Civil Liberties advocates on the "Left" and strict constructionist Constitutionalists on the "Right" have an obligation to join forces, to compel their adherents in Congress - of both parties - to pass legislation which imposes harsh and certain criminal penalties on any public officials or agents of the government at any level who deprive an American citizen of their Constitutional Rights.
Such a "Rights Enforcement Act" (or "REA") would also strip police, bureaucrats, regulators, and politicians of their 'sovereign immunity' from civil liability to their victims, enacting a specific civil Tort of "Tyranny" from which financial damages and other redress could be obtained from the officials personally, through litigation in a court of law.
A great hew and cry will be raised that such sanctions would immobilize the government; that it would paralyze law enforcement or the regulation of industry, that religious fanatics or rabble rousers would run amok and that [even more] ciminals would get off scott-free on minor 'technicalities'. They will say that good people will be discouraged from public service by the threat of legal liability for their official actions. Defenders of the Establishment will prcclaim that "this will set free, immunize, and empower those who would destroy our way of life..." All of these arguments are true, to an extent, but, even if wholly true, together form an insufficient rationale on which to deny the need for an REA.
Those actions of law enforcement or the regulatory bureaucracy which depend upon a constitutional violation for their veracity, must of necessity be considered overreaching in their effort. That people may choose to live their lives in accordence with religions outside the local traditional social mainsrream is a given. It was a freedom given to us by the founding fathers, in the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights. Yes, its a "given"; and one we must cherish and be more protective of in the future. Imprudent excesses of "Free Speech by some will doubtless offend the sensibilities of many, just as pornography and radical politics have always done. While "suspects" may be arrested in fewer numbers for common offences, actual conviction rates can be expected to rise as poorly conceived prosecutions are weeded out by the sanction process, enabling greater law enforcement resources to be devoted to serious and repeat offenders.
That 'good people' will be dissuaded from public service is a fatuous argument, as those with no compunction to violate civil rights have no business wielding public authority, at any level. Obviously, professional liability insurance pools and "hold harmless" employer indemnification can protect the personal assets of those errantly found guilty or who have innocently commited 'technical' transgressions of the Bill of Rights, and become civilly liable under the REA. The difference between an agency shielded by sovereign immunity and one which indemnifies its agents pursuant to an employment contract is that in the latter case, the agency will bear the financial liability for the actions of its personnel. In time, this should chasten even the most officious and authoritarian of the zealous bureaucrats - and police officers, for that matter.
The Establishment's response to 9/11, it can be shown, has already itself threatened to "destroy our way of life". The 'American way-of-life' includes a presumption of safety in ones home and person from unreasonable searches and seizures, the presumption of innocence, and to the security of one's life, liberty, and property, except by the due process of law. It is difficult to fathom any aspect of the American character that is more fundamental than these presumptions. There is, in fact, no "American way of life" without them.
In allowing white cops in the ghetto, NSA telecom engineers at the phone company's central office switchgear, OSHA/EPA compliance inspectors in the factory, Immigration & Customs Agents on the farm, or the IRS on your doorstep to consider any part of their responsibility to be above adherence to the Constitution's Bill of Rights, we neglect our obligation to reasonably withhold "the consent of the governed", when it is employed to justify forms of state coercion which that document expressly prohibits.
Technology today enables governments to search our private affairs and communications in ways scarcely imagined two centuries ago. Our privacy is now subject to state invasion discretely, even without our knowledge, much less consent or the due process of a court order. Federal "Library Letters" make a mockery of our free society; we see American citizens, arrested without warrant and held without trial. A "police state" is ratcheted up incrementally, notch by notch, so slowly that few notice, and most passively accept it as merely the price of the modern age.
However, these subtle "tweaks" in our laws and tradition that we've come to accept all move inexorably in one direction. Individually, they push the boundaries of civil liberties benignly and ever-so-slightly, but, if ever invoked comprehensively, with the malevolence of tyrants common in history, these lapses in our discretion would rend asunder the very fabric of everyday life in the United States. Our "way of life" will have been sacrificed for our greeds and conveniences of the moment.
Drive your respresentatives to enact a broad and powerful Rights Enforcement Law - to superscede all other provisions of the U.S. Code - at the earliest opportunity. Irrespective of your philosophy ("Liberal" or "Conservative") or party affiliation, you know that its the right thing to do. You know that the times have made it necessary. You know that it is essential to prserving the American way of life for future generations. Make it an Issue. Make it HAPPEN.