By Mike Kroll
As the Bush administrations march toward the second Iraq war gathered steam late last year peace movements began to form in earnest across this nation and including Knox County. All of these anti-war groups shared a common albeit futile desire to forestall if not stop President George Bush from unleashing Americas military on Iraq and Saddam Hussein. One of the goals pursued by these groups was to seek out resolutions opposing the war from government bodies and institutions. When the Knox County group attempted to get the City of Galesburg to adopt such a resolution they were summarily dismissed by the city council.
When the administration of Knox College was approached to take a stand against the war the response was more interesting. The college would not take an institutional stand for a variety of reasons. However, the educational institution would recognize the broad political and educational ramifications posed in the forum of a series of presentations, panel discussions and free-wheeling conversations between faculty, students, invited speakers and the Galesburg community. An entire class day was cleared to make room for this unique event and notable outside participants were solicited to participate.
As the Knox project gained steam its focus broadened beyond the question of war in Iraq (which was essentially over before this series of events took place) to additionally include the wide range of civil liberties that have been sacrificed in the name of Americas war on terrorism. Literally within days of the September 11 attack the initial draft of what came to be known as the USA Patriot Act appeared in Congress. This bill greatly broadened the investigative and police powers of the Justice department while diminishing oversight by the courts, and chillingly exempted non-citizens from many of the most basic civil liberties we take for granted.
On Tuesday evening (May 13) the program began with presentations on "The War in Iraq: Which Way is U.S. Foreign Policy Headed?" by a husband and wife who are not only retired Foreign Service officers but Knox grads as well. Eugene Tadie and his wife Virginia Canil are recently retired career officers with the State Department who worked in tandem, first to graduate from Knox in 1974 and eventually to pursue American interests at various posts over the last 20 years.
Tadie took pains to lay out the diplomatic underpinnings of what has become know as the Bush Doctrine. Perhaps the most contentious issue of which is the notion of pre-emptive war or strikes against our enemies. Bush advisors have also referred to this as "anticipatory defense." In essence this is presented as a natural extension to the universally accepted notion of the right of self-defense. "It should not be necessary to absorb a first strike from a weapon of mass destruction before one acts in self-defense," said Tadie. "This isnt really the radical break from historical U.S. foreign policy that many have made it out to be. It is permissible to launch a preemptive attack when you are sure that doing so is the only way to prevent being the victim of an attack by terrorists or a rogue state."
"Im inclined to believe that the war in Iraq is justified and legal according to International law. Back in February I believe [Secretary of State] Colin Powell laid out in great detail the wide array of intelligence information establishing that Iraq still posed a threat of using weapons of mass destruction. I cant believe that Powell would knowingly present a lie and to me the evidence was convincing. We have declarations from the Iraqi government itself acknowledging thousands of tons of chemical and biological weapons far in excess of that we know to have been destroyed by the U.N. weapons inspection teams. It shouldnt be surprising that in a mere six weeks we havent been able to locate material that eluded U.N. inspectors for over ten years!"
Despite his defense of our attack on Iraq Tadie is far less certain that the end result is as neat and tidy as the Bush administration would have us hope. "While there is no disputing that we have forced a regime change in IraqSaddams government is outit remains unclear how successful we will be in putting a democracy in place that succeeds in maintaining control over this divided nation." Tadie is also unsure of the long-term impact this war will have on American foreign policy across the Middle East.
Proving that the liveliest political discussions occur within the family Tadies wife (and fellow retired foreign policy officer) expressed grave doubts about the Bush administrations decision to flaunt the will of the United Nations and buck the tide of world opinion in going to war with Iraq. "We might be the biggest baddest nation on earth right now but soon enough we are going to need the help and cooperation of the world community we just declared irrelevant. Gene made a strong case for the legality of preemptive attack but that doesnt automatically translate into a convincing justification for the world community. While it is still too early to draw any real conclusions about the likely impact this action will have on our relations across the mid-east or in battling terrorism I see little reason for optimism."
On Wednesday morning the day began with an assortment of small group discussions of issues related to the Iraq war and the related war on terrorism and its impacts here at home as well as abroad. Edwin Yohnka, director of communications for the Illinois chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), presented the second formal program covering the Patriot Act at 11am. While Tadie and Canil each held clear personal views on their subject matter both gave presentations tempered well-learned habits of a career diplomat. In contrast Yohnka was as energetic and forceful an advocate of the ACLUs opposition to the Patriot Act as you might find on a cable panel show.
"The Patriot Act is a clear threat to all of us because it defines terrorism so broadly. It expands terrorism to include domestic terrorism which subjects citizens merely engaged in civil disobedience to wide ranging surveillance and harassment. It greatly expands the ability of law enforcement to conduct secret searches, monitor our communications and amass a huge database on American citizens with little judicial oversight. It is a direct assault on the first, fourth, fifth, sixth and eighth amendments and many of the very freedoms this administration pledge to support and defend elsewhere."
Yohnka has lately been spending much of his time conduction informational presentation on the array of civil rights issues raised by the Patriot Act and the ACLUs efforts to fight against continuing efforts to expand related government powers. "There is no limit on the use of the tools contained within the Patriot Act toward battling terrorism. They can and have been applied to Americans who have had the temerity to government policies or the war on terrorism conducted domestically by the Bush administration and especially Attorney General [John] Ashcroft."
The ACLU has produced a lengthy report entitled "Insatiable Appetite" that details "the governments demand for new and unnecessary powers after September 11." It evaluates the ways the Patriot Act threatens our cherished freedoms in ways most would have considered unthinkable before September 11. "It is important to remember that this act was pushed through Congress in only 45 days with little debate or discussion," notes Yohnka. "This sweeping bill of 340-some pages was presented just four days following 9-11; just how much real thought and consideration could possibly have gone into the preparation of this wish list of executive powers? And you need to examine the larger context into which the Patriot Act fits. There has been absolutely no evidence that this sacrifice of our civil liberties makes us even a little bit safer from terrorism."
Yohnka goes on to explain how the Patriot Act permits the FBI to investigate American citizens for criminal matters without probably cause of any crime being committed merely by saying it is for "intelligence purposes." It allows non-citizens to be jailed on suspicion alone and deported or denied admission to this country solely because they engaged in free speech. Such non-citizens can even be detained indefinitely with little or no judicial oversight. A huge blanket "national security" has been thrown over many hearings or trials baring the public and press from witnessing judicial handling of suspected terrorists. Even American citizens suspected of terrorism can be held indefinitely in military custody without charges being filed or even access to a lawyer.
"Americans are only just beginning to question and understand the issues surrounding the Patriot Act and the broad new powers given to the police and military to conduct domestic surveillance of Americans. As we become aware of the implications posed by such broad unrestrained government powers more and more of us will begin to speak loudly against this attack on the very fabric of our constitutional democracy. People are becoming fearful of the vast potential for abuse by Ashcroft and the Bush administration and telling their Congressmen and Senators that this has already gone too far."