by ROBERT HEROLD & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & P & lt;/span & resident Bush's insistence that his War on Terror requires that Congress grant blanket immunity to phone companies that conspire with his administration to spy on Americans absent probable cause, fairly reeks with demagoguery. To move the discussion beyond the president's fear mongering, we need go back to basics -- to definitions, illustrations, context and history.
Terrorism is typically viewed as violence or the threat of random violence against civilians (noncombatants) and is most often associated with the pursuit of political ideological objectives. The common denominators are fear, violence and intimidation.
As a tactic, terrorism is most effective when unpredictable. The German V-1 Rocket was not as terrifying as the V-2 Rocket because the older "Buzz bomb" could be heard, even seen, giving citizens at least some warning. The V-2, the world's first ballistic missile, was very terrifying; it came without warning. The V-2 brought random violence.
The intended effect of terrorism is the creation of the feeling of powerlessness. From feelings of powerlessness come the sense of anomie, the feeling that one is confronted by chaos. This is all part of the terror package.
While the Bush Administration claims the high road against terrorism today, the truth is that America, like so many other nation states, has over the years engaged in its own forms of state sponsored terrorism -- "ends justifying the means." Consider the destruction of the ancient city of Dresden in February 1945 when the British and American air forces intentionally created a firestorm resulting in the deaths of 35,000-100,000 civilians. I hasten to point out, the allies had no military objective except that of terrorizing civilians. Waterboarding, of course, is designed to accomplish much the same thing, one victim at a time.
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & W & lt;/span & ith reference to these definitions, America was terrorized by the 9/11 hijackers. The students at Virginia Tech were terrorized by a gunman. And so, too, this past week were the students at Northern Illinois. Indeed, over in Seattle's University District students are presently being terrorized by a wave of random violence that competes with what we see in our worst inner cities. Muggings and armed robberies are taking place on a weekly, even daily basis. That neither the university nor the police have managed to arrest even one perpetrator and that the president seemingly can do no more than send out platitudes cautioning students to walk after dark in groups (as if that is always possible) sends just the wrong message: like the victims in Dresden, college kids in the U District are being made to feel powerless. Nor does the politically correct Seattle press help out when it refuses to publish information about race. Black? Latino? Asian? They won't say, which has the effect of deepening the feeling of anomie thus adding to the sense of terror.
Bush would have us believe that in the interest of "fighting terrorism" the government needs the power to conduct what under the Constitution is surely considered an "unreasonable search." I refer to his warrantless surveillance aided and abetted by the phone companies. Bush says not to worry, that his "professionals" only want to get a line on the terrorists, not law abiding citizens. Trust us, says the president.
Just this week, my freshman Gonzaga University political science class discussed the issues surrounding the bill that Bush demands that the House approve, the update to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. I mentioned the president's assurances, whereupon a student told this story: Seems that a year ago, her high school friend wrote a senior term paper on terrorism and ever since has been pulled out of airport security lines and interrogated -- his library search got him a place on the government's list of dubious persons. He had typed in the word "terrorism." Now he finds that he must add an hour to his check-in time. Is this terrorism or just inconvenience?
Protect America supporters will say that it's the latter; moreover, if you are innocent, you have nothing to worry about. But these investigations are being conducted in the absence of probable cause or even the lesser standard, reasonable suspicion. And when a low-grade government functionary is given the authority to haul a law-abiding person out of a public queue without having a reason to do so beyond whatever generic data has been gleaned from the government's mass snooping operation -- well, that's not just inconvenience, it's an invasion of privacy on the way to something worse.
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & A & lt;/span & re we not creating conditions favorable to oppression? Imagine Dick Cheney in control of this warrantless surveillance program. What do you suppose would happen were he to discover that you were using anti-Iraq War talk in communications with your daughter who was studying abroad in London? If the word "terrorism" can get you on the short list, surely anti-Iraq war communications must have been flagged as a concern to the state. Why not single out anti-Iraq war activists? That's what Nixon did when he loosed the CIA to snoop on anti-Vietnam War activists.
The point being, terrorism comes in many forms. Some are obvious -- the V-2 rocket, a shotgun barrage in a classroom or a mugging in the U District. Some are not so obvious, such as the state sponsored invasion of privacy with the full cooperation of corporate America.
The framers understood the threat. That's why they gave us the Fourth Amendment, protecting us against unreasonable searches and seizures.