Drug war, not the Patriot Act, infringes on our freedoms

October 22, 2003|By Gregory Kane

NASHVILLE, Tenn. --- In one corner, weighing in with his reputation as a conservative spokesman behind him, syndicated columnist Armstrong Williams.

And in another corner, weighing in as director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Washington legislative office and member of one of Baltimore's most prominent black families, Laura W. Murphy.

The contestants squared off Monday night in the Turner Recital Hall of Vanderbilt University. The weapons were ideas and words, not boxing gloves. The ring was a stage, and the match a debate on the topic "Is the War on Terrorism Abroad an Assault on Democracy at Home?" Betty Baye, a columnist for the Louisville Courier-Journal, was the referee.

The sponsors of the debate were the usual suspects: the Trotter Group, an organization of African-American columnists that meets every year to discuss controversial topics. Joining Williams and Murphy as debaters were Trotter Group members Courtland Milloy of The Washington Post and Derrick Jackson of The Boston Globe. Like Murphy, Milloy and Jackson opposed sections of the Patriot Act and the war in Iraq. It's a wonder Williams didn't get that sinking, George Armstrong Custer kind of feeling.

But Williams boldly sallied forth, focusing on the war in Iraq. Saddam Hussein, the dispatched leader of Iraq, was a guy who, in Williams' words, "nurtured extremism." Our world is a "better, safer place" with Hussein out of power, Williams continued, adding that we shouldn't have waited for a smoking gun - concrete evidence of Hussein's weapons of mass destruction - before invading. Williams quoted National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to bolster his point.

"If we wait for a smoking gun, that smoking gun may be a mushroom cloud over an American city."

The Patriot Act legislation that has caused angst across the political spectrum has, Williams argued, worked because there have been no terrorist attacks on American soil since Sept. 11, 2001.

Murphy, as you may have surmised, didn't agree.

"To say that the Patriot Act has made us safer because there have been no terrorist attacks," Murphy countered, "is like saying that because I have an elephant gun in my office and there are no elephants in my office means the gun must be working. Are we safer or less free? I believe we're less free."

Let's see now: Which of the freedoms guaranteed us in the Bill of Rights are we no longer free to exercise as a result of the Patriot Act? Have masses of Americans been prevented from freely expressing their religion, assembling peaceably or speaking their minds? Have any newspapers critical of the war, President Bush, Attorney General John Ashcroft or the Patriot Act been closed down? Have any editors or reporters been tossed into jail? That covers the First Amendment.

The Second Amendment the ACLU doesn't even believe in, not as it pertains to individuals owning guns. We can skip that one and go down to the Fourth Amendment, the one that proscribes unreasonable searches and seizures. This amendment has been reduced to a joke not by the Patriot Act or the war on terrorism, but the war on drugs, which is supported by liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans alike. Ask Alberta Spruill if the Fourth Amendment still applies in this country.

Oh, that's right. You can't ask her. She died in a Harlem drug raid in May, when police, acting on a tip from a confidential informant, burst into her home and hurled a concussion grenade inside. Spruill suffered a fatal heart attack. It was all nice and legal, with a warrant duly signed by a judge who took the word of a confidential informant who provided details that netted no drugs, no guns and no suspect. The suspect was actually in jail at the time of the raid. Perhaps Murphy, the rest of the ACLU and all those in dread of the Patriot Act will excuse me if I ask who that particular piece of legislation has killed.

Have Americans en masse been forced to testify against themselves or been denied jury trials (Amendments 5 and 6)? Are there droves of us who've been subjected to cruel and unusual punishment as a result of the Patriot Act (Amendment 8)? These things may have happened to a small minority of people who were rounded up as suspects immediately after 9/11. I contend their fate was better than Spruill's.

It's the war on drugs, not the war on terrorism, that's the real - and far deadlier - threat to freedom. Somebody send the folks in the ACLU that memo.

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