The star of a recent episode of the TV series, ‘The Practice’(1/11/04,) was not James Spader or Sharon Stone, it was The US Patriot Act – and what a despicable role it was. If there is still a citizen unaware of the US Patriot Act and the soon to be Victory Act, and how the US Patriot Act has eroded seven of ten amendments in our Bill of Rights, this episode was a rude awakening.
The show opened with a hysterical call to the lawyer’s offices by a young white male, pleading for a lawyer to come immediately to the hospital because his friend was being tortured by the police. Disbelief was soon replaced with fear as the young man held his phone towards the screams of his buddy.
When the new young, blonde lawyer of the firm stormed into the emergency room and insisted the police leave her client alone, she was forcefully and bodily removed and handcuffed to a bench. When she yelled that they could not treat her client, or herself, in this manner, she was informed that the US Patriot Act gave them the right; furthermore, they had 48 hours to interrogate the suspect without the intrusion of an attorney.
However, before she was removed she witnessed the police shoving and twisting a flashlight into a gaping gunshot wound in the young man’s shoulder – and so did we, the viewing audience. I gasped and had to turn my head from the horror on the screen.
His haunting screams permeated the hospital – and still echo in my ears.
When the rest of the legal staff showed up to add their might, they quickly learned they were helpless. The agonizing screams continued. The lawyers turned to one of the physicians and asked if he couldn’t do something. The doctor responded, ‘The police have taken over’. Visibly, there were policemen in every inch of the hospital corridors.
One of the lawyers went to the FBI to register a complaint. That, too, was to no avail. The US Patriot Act protected the police action. Spader awakened a Judge at 2 a.m. only to leave without a signed Writ of Habeas Corpus that would put a stop to the police brutality. You see, the young man with the gaping bullet hole was their sole suspect for the shooting of a policeman and the Judge didn’t want to be the one to sign away the police action.
Even as we watched, it became clear that the young man being abused was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Proof of that was evident by the end of the hour.
The infamous US Patriot Act was swiftly swept into law days after 9/11, on October 26, 2001 . Protection was the code word, but nothing could be further from the truth – or the reality. The US Patriot Act cleared the way for abuse. It also gave our police forces unprecedented power against its citizenry. David Kelley masterfully demonstrated one aspect of its abusive, obstructive, powers in this episode of ‘The Practice’.
The real life drama of the intrusion of the US Patriot Act in our lives is equally frightening.
In July, 2003, Rep. John Conyers, in response to a report released by the Justice Department’s Inspector General’s Report, said, "This report shows there are more victims of John Ashcroft's war on the Constitution. The attorney general appears on television nearly every week claiming to protect us, while he simultaneously dismantles our civil liberties and civil rights. Will the Justice Department ever admit that it has gone too far?"
In the six-month report of December 16th to June 15th there were 1,076 reported claims of civil liberty or civil rights complaints related to the US Patriot Act. Thirty-four were deemed credible according to the Inspector General’s office and would be examined.
Some of the abuses included, abusive language, cruel and unusual behavior, and abusive treatment. One detainee had a loaded gun held to his head while being transported, another was forced to remove his shirt and ordered to shine his guard’s shoes. Sleep deprivation, torture, and beatings were also reported.
Upon reading the report, Rep. Conyers said, “This report shows that we have only begun to scratch the surface with respect to the Justice Department's disregard of constitutional rights and civil liberties. I commend the inspector general for having the courage and independence to highlight the degree to which the administration's war on terror has misfired and harmed innocent victims with no ties to terror whatsoever."
Considering most American’s get their news from the 7 and 11 o’clock television reports, and the minute attention these acts have received, it is no wonder more than one-half of our populace has no understanding of the danger we’re in as a free nation.
They don’t understand that they can be detained or locked in a stockade without legal representation or notification to their families. They don’t know that their every move could be on surveillance; that their phones could be tapped, or their business records demanded. They don’t know that their DNA could be collected and kept in a data bank or that they could be deported if they were deemed unacceptable citizens; that their surfing on the Internet could be monitored; that they have no rights of denial if they join a group, participate in a group, or even stand near a group that is considered suspicious.
They don’t realize that their homes could be searched without a warrant; that their bank accounts and credit card bills can be scrutinized and that they would have no legal recourse. They don’t understand that their private conversations in their home, or their television viewing choices can be monitored without their knowledge or consent; that court orders, probable cause, and justification are concepts of the past.
For this reason, if for no other, it is imperative that those of us who do read and do know the threat to our freedom-loving democracy, must work to inform our friends, neighbors, and family members. It is time to take up our pens and shout out loud that we are not going to sit idly by and watch all that our ancestors fought so diligently to preserve diminish as we hold our tongues and still our hearts.
These are tenuous times; they're frightening and scary and they hold the potential of changing all of our lives to the detriment of humankind. These are the days that history will record as either the turning point when the populace stood up and made a conscientious decision to take back their country - or that they dropped the ball and allowed themselves to be led down the path of no return.
If we fail to act, it will be the generations that come after us that will suffer for our inaction and complacency. We can all take a lesson from Daryl and Jan Heslop. As Democratic Vice Chairman in his home state of Kansas , Jan and Daryl, at their own expense, wrote and mailed letters to every Democrat and Independent registered voter. They articulated the issues plainly and clearly and stated the position of the Democratic candidate for Governor, Kathleen Sebelius. In a staunch Republican state, Ms. Sebelius won!
What if each of us wrote just ten letters to our neighbors, our co-workers, our friends, and family and personally told them the importance of this upcoming presidential election – and what’s at risk? Perhaps, we the people can make a difference.
Let's make this a concerted effort of the people for the people. In each of your letters encourage the recipient to do the same. If all of us who feel so strongly that our democracy is at risk become pro-active and forget the adage we grew up with: 'Never discuss politics...' just perhaps we can have the country that we were so proud to call ours once again.
Norma Sherry is co-founder of TogetherForeverChanging.org, an organization devoted to educating, stimulating, and igniting personal responsibility particularly with regards to our diminishing civil liberties. She is also an award-winning writer/producer and host of upcoming television program, The Norma Sherry Show. Her Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. This article first appeared in Op-Ed News.com.