The Bushist Police State and Interlibrary Loan
“Alice: While you talk, he’s gone!
More: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law!
Roper: So now you’d give the Devil benefit of law!
More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
Roper: I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you – where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast – man’s laws, not God’s – and if you cut them down – and you’re just the man to do it – d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.”
–Robert Bolt, “A Man for All Seasons”
Cole: I hate al-Qaeda. Its “values” are the diametric opposite of virtually everything I stand for. I would like to see al-Qaeda and all the little al-Qaeda wannabes planning out the killing of innocent civilians broken up, their members arrested and put away for a very long time. I consider our FBI and CIA officials and case officers working on this problem to be great heroes in a noble struggle and I only hope my own work on understanding religious extremism is of any use to them in it.
But you can’t get at al-Qaeda by having an auto-da-fe for the US Constitution, and even if you could, it would be a hollow victory, because it is the values of the Bill of Rights that al-Qaeda would like to see subverted.
There is a vicious playfulness in Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri in this regard. They consider the US to have been a bulwark of heavy-handed authoritarian regimes in the Muslim world that have summarily arrested Muslim activists, tossed them in jail without proper trials (or via courts-martial), tortured them, and executed them with no due process. They knew very well that an event like September 11 would provoke the US government to close off civil liberties for Americans, because they had seen similar things happen in the Middle Eastern countries they had tried to subvert. Bin Laden said after 9/11, “We have caused them to taste a little bit of the calamities that have been befalling the Muslims for the past 80 years” or words to that effect. Part of what he was referring to was the authoritarian states, like those of Attaturk and Abdul Nasser, that were founded after the abolition of the Islamic Caliphate in 1924. (Fundamentalist Muslims often consider the caliphate, a sort of equivalent of a Sunni Muslim papacy, to be a guarantor of social justice).
Their point of view on this matter is ahistorical and bizarre. The caliphate had lapsed with the Mongol invasion in 1258 and the Ottoman sultans only seriously began claiming also to be caliphs around 1880, and most Muslims did not even accept the claim, though it was popular among Muslims in colonized British India. Nor was the late Ottoman empire exactly a fount of social justice, though it had “liberal” moments of constitutionalism and parliamentarism in 1876-78 and in 1908-1912, which the Ottoman sultan-caliph Abdul Hamid II actually opposed!
But it may well be that Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri, whom Bush doesn’t seem very interested in capturing, have had the last laugh. Their monstrous “theatrical” terrorism on a large scale has paralyzed the US political and judicial elite in the face of Cheney’s and Bush’s New American Empire, an Empire in which the US Constitution has been turned into a dead letter.
Those same FBI and DHS agents who are heroes when they take on al-Qaeda directly are in danger of becoming double agents for Bin Laden when they are tempted by all the new prerogatives offered them by King George III (isn’t he our third George?) to sidestep the Bill of Rights, due process and the rule of law.
The below turns out to be based on a hoax. But it is one of those hoaxes that actually bespeaks an all too vivid reality, which is that the so-called PATRIOT act does allow US security agencies to secretly examine the library requests of patrons, and the Bush administration has vastly expanded its surveillance of Americans without a court warrant.
Cole: I have personal knowledge of DHS folks visiting intellectuals over books. I know an Arab-American professor who was doing development work in the Middle East who shipped back some Arabic books, some of them on water and sewage systems. These were intercepted at customs and he received a visit from two agents who questioned him about the books. They were, of course, innocuous, and he had been working on a USG contract!
The below is retracted.
My colleague Andras Riedlmayer writes:
“It’s not just the NSA engaging in wholesale monitoring of phonecalls. Now we find out that Bush’s Department of Homeland Security also monitors interlibrary loan requests from college libraries, and checks them against a “watch list” of supposedly dangerous books. And if there’s a match, they take action — as in the case of a student at U. of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, taking a class on fascism and totalitarianism, who’d requested a book for a research paper.
The Homeland Security found the title sufficiently worrisome to send two agents to pay a visit to the student at his parents’ home and question him. They did not let him have the book.
The two professors involved in this case are Brian Glyn Williams, associate professor of Islamic history at UMass Dartmouth, and his colleague Robert Pontbriand, who teaches modern European history.
It makes the 1950s look like halcyon days. Consider — an American citizen who has committed no crime is flagged for (a.) having travelled abroad, and (b.) for having checked out a book on the Department of Homeland Security’s “watch list” of forbidden or dangerous titles, as revealed by the government’s secret monitoring of library circulation transactions. All this without probable cause, a search warrant or any semblance of due process.
Now I’ll tell you something (even though I’m sure the Homeland Security aparatchiks are probably reading your e-mails and mine, stupid un-American bastards that they are): I not only own a copy of Mao’s Little Red Book, I happen to own one that’s in Arabic. And I also own several copies of the Qur’an (the same book read by Osama and a billion other “potential terrorists”). And I’ve traveled abroad, too (Egypt, Macedonia, Kosovo, Bosnia, The Hague, to name just some of the more suspicious places…).
And why would our government care to know about any of this? Because they hate our freedoms!
feeling more than a bit alarmed about what this country is turning into
The Standard Times (New Bedford, MA)
December 17, 2005
Agents’ visit chills UMass Dartmouth senior
By AARON NICODEMUS, Standard-Times staff writer
NEW BEDFORD — A senior at UMass Dartmouth was visited by federal agents two months ago, after he requested a copy of Mao Tse-Tung’s tome on Communism called “The Little Red Book.”
Two history professors at UMass Dartmouth, Brian Glyn Williams and Robert Pontbriand, said the student told them he requested the book through the UMass Dartmouth library’s interlibrary loan program.
The student, who was completing a research paper on Communism for Professor Pontbriand’s class on fascism and totalitarianism, filled out a form for the request, leaving his name, address, phone number and Social Security number. He was later visited at his parents’ home in New Bedford by two agents of the Department of Homeland Security, the professors said.
The professors said the student was told by the agents that the book is on a “watch list,” and that his background, which included significant time abroad, triggered them to investigate the student further.
“I tell my students to go to the direct source, and so he asked for the official Peking version of the book,” Professor Pontbriand said.
“Apparently, the Department of Homeland Security is monitoring inter-library loans, because that’s what triggered the visit, as I understand it.”
Although The Standard-Times knows the name of the student, he is not coming forward because he fears repercussions should his name become public. He has not spoken to The Standard-Times.
The professors had been asked to comment on a report that President Bush had authorized the National Security Agency to spy on as many as 500 people at any given time since 2002 in this country.
The eavesdropping was apparently done without warrants . . .