First, an opinion piece by Robert Sheer about Jose Padilla, a US citizen who has been held by the government for 3.5 years and tortured even though initial charges that Padilla plotted to detonate a “dirty bomb” have been dropped. This part of the article pretty much sums up why even in difficult times and under threat of terrorism we must stay true to our American ideals of justice:
The excuse for this heinous treatment of a U.S. citizen is the same as that given for an entire orgy of despicable treatment of prisoners held in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo and a gulag archipelago of secret military facilities around the world: Our enemies, all linked through sophistry to the 9-11 terror attacks, are so vile and dangerous that the limitations on government power enshrined in our guiding documents and political culture no longer apply. Once the Twin Towers were knocked down, supposedly, we could no longer afford to be “nice guys” — as if the rule of law is an indulgence of only the most secure nations.
By that standard, any tyrant can justify the cruelest of actions by citing enemies, real or imagined, be it King George III blockading Boston Harbor to teach the rebellious colonists a lesson or Saddam Hussein killing Kurdish villagers after an assassination attempt on his life. The very uniqueness of our national experiment was the checks and balances put upon the government to prevent such convenient rationalizations for abuse of the individual. The Founding Fathers won a war, but their true contribution to human history was to tackle head-on the reality that humans and their institutions can so easily become that which they despise.
Even when an American is suspected of a “capital or infamous crime,” as was Padilla, the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution specifically says he still cannot “be deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process of law.” That is why the Supreme Court finally forced the Bush administration to give Padilla his day in court.
In another article in Wired by Ryan Singel, it appears that anyone who has flown an airplane in the United States in the past five years has been subject to possibly illegal violations of privacy and freedom of movement by the Department of Homeland Security.
At the National Targeting Center, the ATS program harvests up to 50 fields of passenger data from international flights, including names, e-mail addresses and phone numbers, and uses watch lists, criminal databases and other government systems to assign risk scores to every passenger.
Though the government has provided few details, such a system could look at travel history, who the ticket was purchased from or what kind of car someone drives to attempt to figure out who is a likely terrorist threat.
When passengers deplane, Customs and Border Protection personnel then target the high scorers for extra screening. The notice says the data and the scores can be kept for 40 years, shared widely, and be used in hiring decisions. Travelers may neither see nor contest their scores.