Sunday, November 16 2003 @ 01:02 PM EST
Hand-delivered to members of Congress November 4th and 5th 2003
The spirit of Liberty embraces all nations in common brotherhood. It voices in all languages the same needs and aspirations. The full power of its expansive and progressive influence cannot be reached until wars cease, armies are disbanded, and international disputes are settled by lawful tribunals and the principles of justice. Then the peoples of every nation, secure from invasion and free from the burden and menace of great armaments can calmly and dispassionately promote their own happiness and prosperity.
—Senator Chauncey M. Depew, 1886 Dedication of the Statue of Liberty.
Depew was a two term senator from New York.
The evolution of the meaning of liberty is both a testament and a challenge to our democracy. No symbol is more synonymous with liberty than the one that bears its name
At the 1886 dedication ceremony of the Statue of Liberty, United States Senator Chauncy M. Depew made the above statement, equating liberty with the realization of global peace. He also extended the spirit of liberty to encompass all nations, in keeping with the statue's original title, Liberty Enlightening the World.
Over a century later, On September 11, 2002, President George W. Bush culminated a day of national mourning by making a speech at the foot of the statue, which was theatrically lit by floodlights from nearby barges. "We will not allow any terrorist or tyrant to threaten civilization with weapons of mass murder," he said. "Now and in the future, Americans will live as free people, not in fear, and never at the mercy of any foreign plot or power."
In one statement, Bush excised from Liberty's embrace all people but Americans. Worse yet, Bush's speech at the Statue of Liberty began a seven-month march toward the invasion of Iraq. This invasion was the very war Depew must have hoped would be obsolete by the 21st century, a war that has so far cost thousands of lives, billions of dollars, and yielded few captured terrorists and no confiscated weapons of mass destruction.
The notion of liberty as a mission for global peace simultaneous with the continued existence of a truly democratic republic in America was once the essence of the Statue of Liberty as articulated by a true representative of its people. It is a notion that has been atrociously abandoned and must be reclaimed and realized if we are to survive as a democracy. In the case of our freedom, Americans have more reason to fear our own government than any foreign plot or power.
It is our own government who is now likely to wage war without end around the globe, to resolve conflicts in tribunals that are neither lawful nor function according to the principles of justice. It is our own government that is making dissent the highest form of patriotism, grounds for citizenship-stripping classification as an "enemy combatant." The dissenters that Jefferson recognized as the state's greatest allies might now easily be treated as its wrongful enemies. It is our own government that is engaging in the very practices that once sent immigrants fleeing to our shores, to the safety of liberty that is the oxygen not only of democracy, but of all human freedom.
"The means of defense against foreign danger historically have become the instruments of tyranny at home," wrote James Madison, architect of the Bill of Rights. Indeed, it is the very rights guaranteed by the first ten amendments of the Constitution that are now imperiled by the scepter of foreign danger. The threat of foreign danger has proven unfounded. The threat to our constitutional rights is real.
With the passage of PATRIOT Act I, and the possibility of the passage of PATRIOT Act II, Congress is moving away from its standard toward the unacceptable lack of respect for democratic principles displayed by President Bush. Passing PATRIOT Act I revealed Congress to be not a thoughtful, lawmaking body but a frightened and willing participant in the creation of a tyrannical police state. Our legislators may have failed as guardians of democracy since September 11, but we, the citizens, have not. Public rejection of PATRIOT Act I builds as Americans awaken to find their civil rights eroded by the legislation.
The PATRIOT Act has already eroded our rights: freedom of speech, freedom of association, access to government information, freedom from secret searches and surveillance, due process and freedom from being held without charge, legal representation and freedom from cruel and unusual punishment freedom that millions have risked their lives to experience and exercise. PATRIOT II would further chip away at these rights, while cementing the affronts to our freedom now in place as temporary measures. No citizen or elected official should stand idly by and let this happen.
History offers some chilling examples of how easily the maintenance of order and elimination of "enemy combatants" among us can have disastrous consequences. As one historian describes the aftermath of the French Revolution:
Two laws passed in September of 1793 led to the arrest of thousands of prisoners who crammed the jails as they waited to be tried by the Revolutionary Tribunal in Paris and other special courts elsewhere. The Law of Suspects made it easy for the Revolutionary Committees all over France to arrest and send for trial those who on the slightest evidence could be thought to be opposed to the regime. The definition of "suspect" was so broad and vague that it could be used to get rid of almost anyone.
17,000 French citizens were massacred during the Reign of Terror, when the laws that sound ominously like our own were passed. The government agency that put them to death? The Committee for Public Safety.
If we cannot foresee the future disastrous consequences of laws passed in the name safety, perhaps we can heed the warnings of the past.
Wisconsin democrat Russ Feingold, the only senator to vote against the Patriot Act, spoke these lucid words on the Senate floor:
" There is no doubt that if we lived in a police state that it would be easier to catch terrorists. But that wouldn't be a country in which we would want to live. And that would not be a country for which we could, in good conscience, ask our young people to fight and die. In short, that would not be America. Preserving our freedom is one of the main reasons that we are now engaged in this new war on terrorism. We will lose that war without firing a shot if we sacrifice the liberties of the American people."
"A police state," he said, "would not be America." It seems almost too obvious a statement, and yet, it is as basic liberty is peace.
President Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft would have us believe that we are powerless against terrorism unless we take extreme measures that have never proven effective in preserving liberty or safety. Senator Feingold reminds us that we are more powerful than we think. The worst terrorism we face comes not from enemies of the state but enemies of liberty within the highest reaches of power in our state.
The President and Attorney General have demonstrated that despite their oaths of office, they will not protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. Only Congress has unique power to make and repeal laws that defy the foundations of American Liberty.
The PATRIOT I must be repealed and PATIOT II can not be passed. Congress must not commit moral treason against the American public.
It is not too late for Congress to realize its own considerable power the The Constitution and the American people are begging and demanding them to wield will fulfill not only their moral obligation and sworn responsibility, but the demands and promises of liberty. We will still be, as we have always been, poised on the brink of an uncertain future, but that is a far more comfortable precipice than the apocalypse spelled by the end of democracy.