Patriot games

Nov 21, 2001 at 12:00 am

If you thought the USA Patriot Act and its assault on civil liberties were cause for grave concern, hold on to your Constitution. Michigan legislators are working overtime to find even more ways to shred the parchment.

The state chapter of the ACLU last week shared with Metro Times a draft copy of the “Michigan Anti-Terrorism Act” that is expected to surface soon in the Legislature. It looks to be one humdinger of a bill.

Or, as ACLU Executive Director Kary Moss succinctly observes: “It’s bad.”

The problem begins with its definition of terrorism: “[C]onduct that would be a felony under the laws of this state, whether or not committed in this state, that is dangerous to human life and intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population or influence or affect the conduct of a government or a unit of government.” Whew.

“Under that definition, protesters at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago could have been prosecuted as terrorists,” explains Moss. “I’m not saying violent protesters shouldn’t be prosecuted. I am saying they shouldn’t be prosecuted as terrorists.”

Her point: You don’t need a new law to lock up people who commit what are already considered felonies.

Moss’ problems with the act don’t stop there.

Another provision outlaws making false terrorist threats. Penalty for doing so is imprisonment for as long as 20 years. The way Moss reads it, that means a kid calling in a bomb threat to school — because it is an unit of government — could be locked up for two decades.

Perhaps most pernicious of all is the provision that states a “person is guilty of hindering prosecution of terrorism when he or she knowingly assists a person who has committed an act of terrorism.” Included in this prohibition are people who provide “expert services or expert assistance” to a suspected terrorist.

In other words, argues Moss, “this provision unquestionably criminalizes legal assistance to a person suspected of terrorism.”

Added to all this are provisions that Moss says allow assets to be frozen and seized without a warrant or even proof of probable cause.

So let’s see. We’ve taken care of that pesky First Amendment and the right to political dissent. The Sixth Amendment and its guarantee of right to counsel is no longer a problem. Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure are done away with, as are 14th Amendment guarantees of due process.

And that’s just this bill. Also in the works is legislation seeking to grant state law enforcement officials the power to install wiretaps if they can show probable cause, and another bill seeking to increase penalties for crimes falling under the “terrorist” umbrella.

“Everybody,” says Moss, “wants to look like they are doing something.”

Very few, however, seem to worry about how history will judge their actions. With an eye on the next election, they’d rather pander to fear than stand on principle.

“History has shown that, in times of national crisis, government often acts carelessly and without regard to people’s rights,” observes Moss. “There’s a very strong danger that will happen again, now.”

Which means that people who are truly patriots, who believe that civil liberties are not something to be given away, even in times of crisis, must act.

To learn what you can do, call ACLU Michigan at 313-578-6800 or visit its Web page at

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette, Metro Times news editor. Call 313-202-8004 or e-mail [email protected]