Some have even been detained for long periods of time without being informed when they would be released or even the reason for their detention. The situation at airports is no less dire. Some airlines have even refused to let Arabs on board because of their ethnic heritage and their perceived connection to terrorism.
One important issue that is overlooked with regard to this is the fact that many white citizens in the country have joined the Al Qaeda cause, because it gives them something to believe in and to fight for. The true terrorists are however ignored in favor of innocent citizens as a result of their skin color. This is certainly not democracy, and nor does the diminishment of equal rights guarantee safety, as the targets of such practices are innocent in most cases.
The issue of ethnic heritage and prosecution after 9/11 are also addressed by Nancy Baker (2003). According to Baker, the Patriot Act has been responsible for many civil liberty atrocities. The basis of these prosecutions is a provision the Patriot Act grants in the face of the innocence presumption clause in the American legal system. According to this key clause, a person is innocent until proven guilty, and in the case of criminal prosecution, proof must be established beyond a reasonable doubt. However, the Patriot Act has suspended this presumption, especially as it applies to young, Muslim and/or Middle Eastern men. This is a clear case of discrimination against persons of a certain ethnic heritage and a certain age.
Indeed, immediately after the attacks, 1,200 foreign nationals were detained under the presumption that they were national security threats, or material witnesses for the same. This is clearly a violation of the First Amendment, which provides non-discrimination on the grounds of ethnic heritage, religion or age. The detained persons committed no crime that warranted their treatment or the presumption of their guilt. Indeed, this action smacks of the hysterical gut reaction mentioned above. People were summarily presumed to be guilty. The constitutional provision of innocent until proven guilty appears to have been reversed to the opposite: persons of a certain profile are guilty until proven otherwise.
According to Baker, Attorney General John Ashcroft and other officials detained the nationals on suspicion of minor crimes, but with the official position that the detainees were suspected terrorists. Indeed, Ashcroft and his associates justified their actions by saying that they were keeping suspected terrorists away from innocent American citizens under the premise of prevention. Since then, it has been the Department of Defense’s policy to stop future terrorist attacks rather than focusing on action once the attacks took place. This took the focus away from investigating past attacks for the purpose of learning from them. Instead, the focus is now on potential future attacks. Also, rather than even using past attacks for information on future attacks, the methods of profiling, assumption of guilt, surveillance, and harassment are used. This of course is directly against the constitution and the Bill of Rights, as mentioned above. Further rules related to detention of suspected terrorists, include that they are to be either deported or charged with criminal offense after seven days of detention.
Further harassment procedures focusing on nationals originating from Arab and Muslim states include interviewing 5,000 of these people in the months after the terrorist attacks (Baker, 2003). Although they clearly were, Ashcroft denied the coercive nature of these interviews. In 2002, thousands of Muslims and Arabs were required to report for questioning to Immigration and Naturalization offices. Here they were questioned, fingerprinted and photographed. The first immigrants reporting in California were arrested in their masses.
After the beginning of the war in Iraq, persons from Muslim countries seeking asylum in the United States were imprisoned on the grounds of political prosecution. This was done, according to officials, to determine whether these people were honest asylum seekers or terrorists in disguise. This was done on a basis no better than the asylum seekers originated from countries with a terrorism presence. This action is also directly against the Constitution, and against the American guarantee of welcome and asylum to foreigners should they need it. It is almost as if the very country that is know for its democratic and civil rights has turned into a despotic environment the presumes terrorist activity on the basis of ethnic and national heritage. The burden of proof is no longer on the state, but on the accused to establish their innocence.
The inherent danger here is that emotions could escalate. Spokespeople for the Muslim community are already commenting on how all Muslims are now suspects as a result of the terrorist attacks and the American reaction to these attacks. It is also particularly harmful for American-Islamic relations. Targeting Muslims cause bad faith on either side, and soon the war is no longer external, against terrorism, but internal and civil, with citizen turning against citizen.
Baker mentions that the basis of John Ashcroft’s action is what he sees as primary weaknesses in the American Constitution, which could be used against the country by terrorists. He further problematizes the issue by broadening the areas of civil liberties that he feels can be used in such a way; due process rights and the free press. The first have been discussed above: persons profiled as potential terrorists are harassed on the basis of their ethnic heritage rather than on the basis of any past or present criminal activity.
The free press is a further issue that has been briefly mentioned above. According to the Bill of Rights, the press exists as a check on unlimited official power. Guaranteeing freedom of the press allows citizens to live under a government under the insurance that they are under an obligation of full disclosure, even if such disclosure means embarrassment for officials.
According to Ashcroft, however, this is another area that terrorists can use against the country. Indeed, he claims that a seized Al Qaeda training manual describes how to use the free press to infiltrate the country and cause death and destruction. According to this logic, Ashcroft’s next assertion is that, in order to curb the threat of terrorism, the government should exercise greater control not only over judicial procedures, but also over information and over surveillance. Since these policy changes, the ACLU has documented a vast number of cases involving atrocities such as profiling, closed hearings, and violations of the Freedom Information Act.
Some provisions of the Patriot Act do not even directly involve the terrorism it so proudly proclaims to fight against. According to John Berlau (2004), for example, Title III of the Patriot Act focuses on attempts to curb money laundering. Of course officials claim this as a possible part of terrorist activities. However, according to Berlau, the link with terrorism becomes increasingly fuzzy when American businesses are involved. According to the author, the provision in the Act encourage businesses to increasingly act like spies, and also increases the surveillance power of the government. Further increases of this kind relates to customer-monitoring requirements that were originally only applicable to banks. These are now also applicable to all establishments that can be classified as “money-service businesses.” The definition of this has been expanded to include small convenience stores that offer financial benefits such as money orders and smart cards, as well as real-estate brokers, travel agents and car dealers. Indeed, almost all areas of business appear to be affected by the more stringent regulations implemented.
Berlau reports that businesses are required to report both activities above a certain amount, as well as activities that they regard as “suspicious.” This is defined as customers who deviate from a government-established pattern. The author cites a car dealer whose main concern is that suspicious behavior in car buyers is largely open to interpretation, as car buyers often behave peculiarly in order to obtain a good deal. Government reports on such behavior could then have negative repercussions for business, and ultimately for the country’s GDP, all in the name of catching increasingly ill defined terrorists.
Another problem related to this is that businesses have an incentive to report because of penalties for failing to do so. Indeed, Berlau reports that more than 300,000 suspicious-activity reports were filed for the year 2002 alone, which indicates that the tendency is toward over reporting. Such legislation also tends to turn citizen against citizen in a big-brother type of environment, particularly where race and religion are issues. Indeed, it is no longer the norm for people of all races and religions to interact and enjoy each other’s company, as the ideal has been before 9/11. Instead, there now reigns an atmosphere of suspicion and mistrust, whereas true terrorism still runs rampant while Americans are distracted by a hysterical government. Furthermore, financial reporting activities may discourage customers from patronizing businesses, which, as mentioned above, may have a negative effect on the economy of the country. Such activities are against the constitution,…