Wednesday :: Feb 8, 2006

King-George-gate: Who's a "suspected terrorist"?

by eriposte

[This is part of my ongoing coverage on King-George-gate: Myths v. Realities. Note that all emphasis in quoted extracts is mine.]

James Bovard has an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times today (h/t Nikki Brown of the LAT) indirectly addressing the Bush administration's use of the fraudulent term "terrorist surveillance program". He points out something that should not come as a surprise to most of us, but is worth emphasizing:

A close look suggests that the feds' definition of a "suspected terrorist" may not meet the laugh test.

In the mass roundup of more than 1,200 people shortly after 9/11, for example, it took very little for a Muslim or Arab illegal immigrant to be considered a "suspected terrorist," according to a 2003 report by the Justice Department's inspector general. Arab students were locked up as suspected terrorists for working at pizza parlors (in violation of their student visas); a Pakistani immigrant was jailed after attracting attention because he and his Queens housemates let their grass grow long and hung their underwear out to dry on the fence...
The Department of Homeland Security in May 2003 urged 18,000 local and state police departments to treat critics of the war on terror as potential terrorists, according to a confidential DHS memo made public in 2004.
The Transportation Security Administration is also extremely arbitrary in how it designates names for its "no-fly" list. There are an estimated 70,000 names in the registry — many of them stuck there for reasons that even the government cannot explain. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) were placed on the list. Everyone with the common name of "David Nelson" is treated like a would-be bomber — as are 4-year-old children unlucky enough to have a name matching one on the list.

There's more.

Since December, according to media reports, TSA agents have been chatting up airline passengers to determine if they are terrorists, looking for such warning signs as "involuntary physical and psychological reactions" — including whether people appear stressed out, frightened or deceptive. The number of people who fear flying outnumber Al Qaeda associates by at least a few thousand-fold, yet visible anxiety will be enough for the TSA to justify taking people aside for far more intensive examination.

And the Pentagon has its own catchall definitions of suspicious and/or terrorist-related behavior. Its "counterintelligence field activity" program, ostensibly set up to protect domestic military bases and personnel, has been covertly gathering information on Americans who have done nothing more suspicious than protest against the Iraq war, including at last year's antiwar rally at Hollywood and Vine. Names gathered in such fishnets are being added to a Pentagon database involving the "terrorism threat warning process," according to Newsweek.

As Bovard says:

When Americans hear Bush say "terrorism surveillance program," they should recognize that the crosshairs may very well be on them.

You bet.

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