John Colson: Hit and Run |

John Colson: Hit and Run

John Colson
Aspen Times Weekly
Aspen, CO Colorado

There’s revolution in the air, and a whiff of that heady scent seems to have spread to the U.S. Congress.

I’m speaking, in the first instance, of the tumult in Tunisia and the excitement in Egypt, where one dictator has gone down and another is teetering at the edge of historical irrelevancy.

I want to focus on Egypt, since as I write it is still very much a revolution in play and since the topic I’m aiming at is most clearly manifested there.

And that topic is political suppression through the use of laws cobbled together for one purpose only – to keep a subject population in check and repress dissent in the name of national security.

In Egypt’s case, President Hosni Mubarak has been enforcing his rule largely on the basis of a “state of emergency” declaration that went into effect in 1967 and has been lifted only once in the interim.

That one time, it should be noted, lasted about a year and a half in the early 1980s and ended with the assassination of then-President Anwar Sadat in 1981, by radical military officers opposed to peace with Israel. It was Sadat who had named Mubarak as vice president in 1975, thereby paving the way for Mubarak to step in after Sadat was gone.

But the subject here is not a lesson in Egyptian succession politics, although that has been a big part of the ongoing protests against Mubarak’s regime.

No, the subject is the emergency law that Mubarak has kept in place, and which has helped keep him in place, since he assumed the presidency. That law, and Mubarak’s apparent intention to put his son, Gamal Mubarak, in the presidential palace once Hosni bows out, figure prominently in the ongoing protests by the people of Egypt.

According to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, the law extends police powers considerably, suspends Constitutional rights and legalizes censorship. It also sharply curtails street demonstrations, prevents the formation of non-approved political organizations and forbids unregistered financial donations to political figures or organizations.

The law also permits the government to imprison people indefinitely, virtually without cause or the prospect of a trial.

Nice set of status-quo parameters, that. George W. Bush probably studied Egypt’s case before pushing through the notorious U.S.A. P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act (which stands for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001). The Patriot Act, as it is known informally, also suspends a variety of Constitutional provisions and gives the American police state much expanded powers for quashing dissent, controlling the flow of information and seizing the records of businesses and organizations without warrants.

Interestingly, though, the U.S. Congress this week declined to renew three key provisions of the Patriot Act, a move that undoubtedly pissed off the former president and his brain trust.

According to an article in the online edition of The Atlantic magazine, the vote took place on the night of Feb. 8, and surprised the hell out of an embarrassed Republican party.

That’s because 26 Republicans joined forces with 122 Democrats to vote against re-authorization of the three provisions. Those provisions, by the way, “give the government the ability to use roving wiretaps to monitor the communications of suspects; obtain special court orders forcing businesses, libraries and banks to turn over records; and conduct surveillance on a so-called ‘lone wolf,’ someone who is not knowingly associated with terrorists,” according to the article.

Among the deserters in the vote were several members of the Tea Party Caucus, which had been counted on for a unified Republican vote.

The vote came after a last-minute appeal from U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), the well-known populist, urging Tea Party freshmen legislators who had run on promises to restore the rule of law as embodied in the U.S. Constitution, to vote against the re-authorization.

There was no mention of whether the Kucinich appeal swayed the Tea Party stalwarts, but the vote offers a glimmer of hopeful light in an otherwise very dark time. Of course, the re-authorization bill is likely to come up again, and this time its backers may be better prepared to continue undermining the civil rights of all U.S. citizens.

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