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JUNE 20, 2003
First they came
for the Muslims
Why should gays fret over the fate of pious Muslims who
overstayed their visas and are about as likely as Jerry Falwell
to embrace our cause? We could be the next scapegoats.
By ADELE M.STAN
idfl5fl|jBlication K Jl
OR ATTORNEY GENERAL
John Ashcroft, it's been a busy
couple of weeks.
First, there was the matter of
defending his Department of
Justice after his own inspector
general released a report taking the agency
to task for its roundup and long detention of
Muslim immigrants, charged with no
crimes, in the wake of 9/11.
Then there was his impassioned plea
before the House Judiciary Committee on
June 5 for expansion of the USA Patriot Act,
the legislation hurriedly passed into law
during the panic that followed the attacks on
the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.
Finally there was the mess with DOJ Pride,
a gay employee group, in which Ashcroft
presided over the department's apparent
refusal to allow the Justice Department's gay
employee organization to hold its annual pride
event at DOJ headquarters.
That initial decision was followed by a
partial reversal of that stance but a continued
refusal to sponsor and underwrite the security costs of holding the event at the headquarters. DOJ Pride organizers ultimately decided
to move the program to Capitol Hill, where
N.J. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D) invited them
as guests of the Senate.
While the last of these controversies has,
understandably garnered the most attention
within the queer community, the DOJ Pride
flap is a mere indicator of why we need to turn
our collective gaze to the first two.
In the June 13 issue of the Voice, a
news story on the Canadian marriage
ruling ("Ontario court OKs gay marriage"), a direct quotation is attributed to
activist Evan Wolfson on the issue of
"comity," or the acceptance of Canadian
marriages in the U.S. In fact, that language paraphrased Wolfson's actual statement on the topic. In addition, the article
failed to identify Rex Wockner as the freelance journalist who obtained that interview. The Voice regrets the errors.
IN THE DAYS THAT FOLLOWED THE
Sept. 11 attacks, more than 750 Muslim immigrants were rounded up — many on pure
hearsay — and held in a federal detention center without being charged, their families lied to
about their whereabouts, and their access to
lawyers denied or obstructed.
A number of the detainees, according to
the inspector general, were subjected to verbal and physical abuse, including the use
such of torture techniques as keeping them
shackled in solitary confinement under
bright lights some 23 hours a day.
Why, you may ask, should queer people
fret over the fate of pious Muslims who
overstayed their visas? After all, you might
reason, they're about as likely as Jerry
Falwell to embrace our cause.
True enough, perhaps. Nonetheless,
what's right is right, and these people were
done wrong. More than that, the United
States Constitution was done wrong, trampled on with impunity by the FBI. And that
bodes not well, my friends, for both the
nation as a whole and for us as a community.
History has shown, time and time again,
that when the powers-that-be go looking for
scapegoats, we usually make it onto the
short list. Even when the initial targets are
ethnic, religious or ideological groups, the
sights ultimately find us in range, as well.
During his recent visit to Capitol Hill,
Ashcroft was hardly contrite about the
inspector general's findings.
"We make no apologies," he said, for
holding prisoners until it was determined
that they had no connection to terrorism. In
other words, guilty until proven innocent.
In the 2001 Patriot Act, Ashcroft won the
right to amass, through secret warrants,
information on the library habits of U.S. citizens and residents, their retail purchases,
credit records, general health and mental
health charts, student records and the like.
Likewise, the government's wiretapping
powers were expanded, with e-mail and
Internet traffic designated fair game for
secret government surveillance.
The definition of terrorism was broadened in such a way that domestic political
advocacy groups that engage in civil disobedience could be monitored and infiltrated by
law enforcement authorities with little judicial oversight.
Had this bill been law during the 1980s
and '90s, Queer Nation would have been a
prime target for the terrorist label (especially after that Communion stunt at New
York's St. Patrick's Cathedral).
Most frighteningly, the Patriot Act allows
the FBI to "investigate American citizens
for criminal matters without probable cause
of a crime," according to the American Civil
Liberties Union, so long as the agents claim
the investigation is "for intelligence purposes." If you missed your chance to kiss the
Fourth Amendment (protection against
unreasonable searches and seizures) goodbye while she was being rushed out the door,
you may wish to send her a note.
IF YOU THOUGHT ASHRCROFT'S BLOOD-
lust would have been satisfied with the red
meat of one hunk of the Bill of Rights, think
again. He's back, and he's asking for more.
Imagine the consequences for political
activists and just regular queer folk if
Justice's proposed Domestic Security
Enhancement Act passed into law in the
form it took when some saint at the department leaked it. earlier this year, to the
Center for Public Integrity.
As reported by ABC News, the draft calls
for granting the Justice Department the
power "to wiretap a person for 15 days without a warrant, [and would permit] federal
agents to secretly arrest people and provide
no information to their family, the media or
their attorney until charges are brought, no
matter how long that took."
But the bill's coup de grace is its provision allowing "the government to strip
Americans of their citizenship for even
unknowingly helping a group that is connected to an organization deemed to be terrorist." Note the phrase "deemed to be terrorist." You may want to think twice before
joining the gay contingent at the next anti-
And remember those Muslim detainees,
and how we didn't feel that outraged about
what happened to them, since they weren't
U.S. citizens? According to this draft of what
has come to be known as "Patriot II," the
government could deem you and me non-citizens for an act of civil disobedience.
One of Ashcroft's first acts upon assuming
office was to drape the classical nude sculptures that grace the headquarters' lobby in
sheets, so as to cover their privates.
An act of civil disobedience I'd love to
see: Let's have a party in the lobby and yank
those sheets. We can use, as the new fig
leaves, copies of the BUI of Rights, a document soon to be rendered
writer and can be
reached through this