In the wake of the terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Congress moved swiftly to condemn the attacks and pour money into the military, $40 billion by this weekend. On Saturday, Congress also passed resolutions in the House and Senate authorizing, quote, “the use of force against terrorists.” The votes were 420 to one in the House, only East Bay Congress Member Barbara Lee voting against the resolution, and 100 to zero in the Senate. Bush administration officials and congressional leaders have pounded on the theme that the U.S. is at war, with little discussion of what it means to pass an open-ended resolution authorizing military action abroad. Administration and congressional officials also said this weekend they’re considering loosening a 25-year-old ban on the assassination of foreigners and a more recent ban on the CIA using human rights abusers as agents. And the Justice Department and FBI are sending a wide-ranging set of proposals to Congress this week that would include more power to conduct wiretaps, detain foreigners and track financial interactions. Civil liberties advocates worry these measures could constitute a massive erosion of civil liberties and the right to privacy. We speak with Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights. [includes rush transcript]
- Michael Ratner, human rights and civil liberties lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: We’re a nation of resolve. We’re a nation that can’t be cowed by evil-doers. I’ve got great faith in the American people. If the American people had seen what I had seen in New York City, you’d have great faith, too. You’d have faith in the hard work of the rescuers. You’d have great faith because of the desire for people to do what’s right for America. You’d have great faith because of the compassion and love that our fellow Americans are showing each other in times of need.
I also have faith in our military. And we have got a job to do, just like the farmers and ranchers and business owners and factory workers have a job to do. My administration has a job to do, and we’re going to do it. We will rid the world of the evil-doers. We will call together freedom-loving people to fight terrorism.
And so, on this day of—on the Lord’s Day, I say to my fellow Americans, thank you for your prayers, thank you for your compassion, thank you for your love for one another. And tomorrow, when you get back to work, work hard like you always have. But we’ve been warned. We’ve been warned there are evil people in this world. We’ve been warned so vividly. And we’ll be alert. Your government is alert. The governors and mayors are alert that evil folks still lurk out there.
AMY GOODMAN: President Bush speaking yesterday as he returned from Camp David. In the wake of the terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Congress moved swiftly to condemn the attacks and pour money into the military, $40 billion by this weekend. On Saturday, Congress also passed resolutions in the House and Senate authorizing, quote, “the use of force against terrorists.” The votes were 420 to one in the House, only East Bay Congress Member Barbara Lee voting against the resolution, and 100 to zero in the Senate. Bush administration officials and congressional leaders have pounded on the theme that the U.S. is at war, with little discussion of what it means to pass an open-ended resolution authorizing military action abroad. Administration and congressional officials also said this weekend they’re considering loosening a 25-year-old ban on the assassination of foreigners and a more recent ban on the CIA using human rights abusers as agents.
And the Justice Department and FBI are sending a wide-ranging set of proposals to Congress this week that would include more power to conduct wiretaps, detain foreigners and track financial interactions. Civil liberties advocates worry these measures could constitute a massive erosion of civil liberties and the right to privacy.
We’re joined on the telephone right now by Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights.
Michael, welcome to Democracy Now! in Exile.
MICHAEL RATNER: Good morning, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: At another point I’ll talk to you with our listeners about your watching the plane fly into the World Trade Center as you were running. But right now, with the minutes we have, let’s talk about the vote this past weekend, the resolution for—the joint resolution that authorizes the United States armed forces to go to war.
MICHAEL RATNER: The problem with—for me, with a resolution such as the one that was passed, with the exception of Barbara Lee’s vote, is you combine that resolution with the rhetoric and the speeches coming out of the White House and Washington, which rhetoric is basically, to me, one of revenge, one of pulverizing other countries, one of bombing them into submission. And you combine that rhetoric of our leaders in Washington with what that resolution—the authority that resolution gives them, and you have to be very, very frightened. The resolution basically says nothing about who the target is or what the target it, names no country, names no organization, names no person. It has no time limit, so that basically the president, under this resolution, can make war forever. It has no congressional oversight. He doesn’t have to come back to Congress and tell them, “Oh, today I plan to hit Afghanistan. Tomorrow I plan to hit Pakistan. The next day I plan to hit the Sudan.” Doesn’t say anything about coming back, reporting to Congress, or anything.
And it’s very broad. It uses a term like—that the president can use military force against anyone who has “aided” in the act, in the terrorism that took place on September 11—a very broad term that could imply people who even give, you know, rhetorical support, not to the terrorism incident, but to whoever the terrorists were in terms of their goals, whatever they be.
So it’s a very, very scary resolution, in the sense that everything is now up to the president, and it’s what I would call—and what worries me is what I would call “cowboy politics” in that White House, which is one of revenge, “We have to do something for the American people.” And that’s almost on the international scale, what you’re getting is what some people are doing to Arab Americans on the domestic scale.
AMY GOODMAN: On the issue of the assassination ban being lifted, can you talk about the significance of this, where it came from, in ’75 and ’76, and why it was—why more restrictions were put on working with human rights abusers, as well, in the last few years?
MICHAEL RATNER: Well, I think the first thing I want to say about these—so-called lifting of these assassination bans and working with human rights abusers is that they’re using, I think, this September 11 terror incident as an excuse for really beefing up that kind of thing and lifting whatever restrictions that were hard-fought and won in the '70s. They didn't—I don’t think they need that to go after the people who did September 11. I mean, if they really believe that bin Laden was behind it, they have known that for three or five years. They’ve known it since East—the bombings in East Africa. They’ve known it since U.S.S. Cole. So what do they need to lift this kind of—these kind of bans for? That’s the first point.
The second point is these bans don’t seem to have had the effect they wanted. I mean, I think most of your listeners know that they tried to kill Gaddafi in Libya despite the ban on assassinations. They used torturers to kill Jennifer Harbury’s husband in Guatemala and to get—then got information from him. So I don’t think these bans—I think they’re there in word, but not in deed. They came out of a period when there were, of course, a number of assassinations done by the CIA throughout the world. And during the '70s, you know, post-Vietnam, we started to get a whole bunch of limitations on the intelligence agencies. But as I said, I don't think that they have been obeyed, basically. But to the extent that they’re going to use this incident to really open up surveillance and lift whatever restrictions, that were hard-fought, on the CIA is just another—is just adding to the tragedy.
AMY GOODMAN: There were senators this weekend who were talking well beyond the assassination ban being lifted for Osama bin Laden. They were saying that, in fact, you know, you have to go well beyond him, when you’re talking about going after people—not clear who they were specifically referring to.
MICHAEL RATNER: Well, that’s what’s worrisome about these kind of resolutions, that—there are perpetrators of September 11th. The United States government should, with other governments, try and find out who those people are; go through legal processes, whether through the U.N. or U.S. extradition; try and get those people tried, as they need to be; and go forward from there. If, obviously, people are imminently planning another attack on the United States or in that process, then the U.S. would have a use—a right to use force against those particular people.
But to begin to broaden it, in the way this resolution allows the president, without really showing any evidence, to broaden it, will give the U.S. powers the chance to really get rid of a lot of people that aren’t just the September 11th people. And that’s very worrisome. And what’s really worrisome is the reaction that we’re going to get. I look at the bombing that the U.S. did of the pharmaceutical plant in Sudan and the earlier missiles that Clinton threw into Afghanistan, and you have to ask yourself, was that a factor in creating more people who want to be terrorists against the United States? And what worries you with an open-ended resolution like this is that it’s going to, I’m afraid, engender more violence, rather than a much narrower resolution that really goes after the perpetrators.
The one positive thing I can say on this is there seems to be some caution coming in. I think the speech you played from Bush on his return from New York was slightly less rhetorical, slightly less revenge-like. I think the European countries are beginning to say there should not be any kind of knee-jerk, massive retaliatory bombing. This is not about retaliation. It’s not about revenge, although that’s what many Americans emotionally feel like. It’s about finding out who did it and stopping it from happening again.
AMY GOODMAN: Several Democrats are saying many senators don’t know exactly what they’re voting on and are supporting measures in determination to condemn terrorism, so you take the civil liberties restrictions — I mean, how serious can we get here? — which have historically fallen hardest on political dissidents.
MICHAEL RATNER: Well, I think it’s really serious. I mean, I have to tell you, I got called by the USA Today yesterday about a poll they took of Americans that said something like 59 percent felt there should be restrictions on Arab-American citizens, whether it be by identity card or some other way. The last time we saw that, obviously, in a legal way was with, you know, the Japanese during the Second World War. But I think there may well be a number, if not a majority, of Americans who want that. I mean, to the—the extent that’s been positive is both Mayor Giuliani and President Bush have said something against—have said—have basically condemned that. But if you have the government, on the one hand, saying, “We have to just get these people. We have to bomb them overseas,” and they’re sort of making indiscriminate remarks about who they have to get, then, you know, you would expect Americans living here to also make indiscriminate or—you know, indiscriminate attacks on Arab Americans and others in the United States. It’s obviously one thing we have to fight against very, very heavily here. It’s obviously a key thing.
AMY GOODMAN: Michael Ratner, our guest, and I hope that you will come join us at the firehouse of Engine 31. We’re now just outside the evacuation zone. And what we’re attempting to do now is for our listeners to be able to come to the station house when we broadcast every morning, 9:00 to 11:00, for these two-hour specials, Eastern Standard Time, so that especially listeners in New York, who are not hearing us on WBAI, can actually come and listen to the program. We invite you down. And this is just outside the evacuation zone now. It’s gotten a little bit smaller, so that while police still stand at Canal Street, it is easier to get in. Michael Ratner, who—actually, Michael, you witnessed the attacks on the World Trade Center just by chance.
MICHAEL RATNER: Yes, I was actually down in Lower Manhattan on my morning run at about, you know, some time before 9:00. I’m right at—really, 300 yards from the World Trade Center. I look up, and there’s a huge explosion in the North Tower. I didn’t actually see the plane go in. I stop for a minute to talk to construction workers. They tell me that they saw the plane go right in. At that point, you’re saying, “Boy, for a direct hit like that, it can’t be accident.” We sit there talking for 15 minutes. Right over my head, maybe 300 yards over my head, another plane comes in on a tilt, on a curve. I thought, naively, well, maybe it’s going to drop water or looking to see the damage. And then it curves around the back, and I saw it go slam right into the building. At that point, we all knew that these were—that this was no accident. And people just took off running, staying away from any high buildings. At that point, you didn’t know what the next thing would be. When we were looking up at the first building, of course, it was quite high, but you saw debris and presumably people just jumping out.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Michael Ratner, thanks for being with us. And we have a lot to analyze in the coming days, as the different laws and regulations come down in Washington, D.C., again, as we broadcast just blocks from where right now hundreds or thousands of evacuation workers and emergency medical people stand by, as they continue to comb through the rubble.