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Page 10
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Open Letter to the New York Metro Area Congressional Delegation

By VVAW, Clarence Fitch Chapter

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Approved February 6, 2002

We write on behalf of the Clarence Fitch Chapter, the New York metro area affiliate of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Inc. We write to voice our concern about the state of civil liberties in our country.

When we enlisted in the armed forces, we swore "to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic." Many of us were immediately dispatched to fight an illegal and unconstitutional war by the very authorities we had sworn to obey. Once again, the clearest and most present danger to the Constitution is our own government.

Our civil liberties require the rule of law - respect for the principles and procedures of our Republic and its Constitution as ratified and amended, as interpreted by an independent judiciary, and as monitored by our elected representatives.

In its determination to respond to the terrorist attacks of September 11 with an endless war against terrorism, our government has announced and sometimes adopted measures which seriously threaten or substantially curtail our civil liberties. Immigrants and foreign visitors are detained indefinitely without hearings, sometimes even without charges. Citizens and legal residents are interrogated, and their confidential business and student records examined, based on their national origin. Attorney-client confidentiality is abrogated in designated cases. Authority to monitor telephone and electronic communications is expanded. Military tribunals for foreign detainees are designed which lack basic procedural protections for defendants. Movement and travel in the daily business of life is arbitrarily restricted. Most recently the Defense Department has proposed setting up a new command for military operations in support of "homeland security," within the United States, which vastly expands the already controversial police function of the military.

Such activities - most of which have long been discredited by police professionals - are flagrant violations of legal and Constitutional (not to say, human) rights. Even more dangerous to our civil liberties: the president and his administration insist on the right to act in secret, and outside both federal and international law. Last October the president's attorney general directed federal agencies to deny requests for public information, honoring instead "institutional, commercial and personal privacy interests." Even now the Justice Department will not release the names of the people detained during the investigations of the attacks on September 11. The Pentagon has refused to classify detainees from Afghanistan as prisoners of war, and declines to take responsibility for detainees transferred to the custody of Afghan warlords.

This administration's contempt for law and the Constitution is so pervasive that the attorney general claims that criticism of his policies amounts to support for terrorists.

We all understand that war requires sacrifice and restriction. We understand that in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks this assault on our civil liberties and the law has widespread and bipartisan support. But we rely on the constitutional system of checks and balances to make sure that our government's actions actually enhance national security and abridge our liberties as little as possible. This is especially important when the president promises us a war that will last for years.

With all too few exceptions, members of Congress have been happy to defer to presidential authority no matter how flagrantly lawless, no matter how likely to fail to provide Americans with real security. This despite the fact that the Bush regime itself has a lawless origin: five Supreme Court judges installed a candidate as president in the wake of a massive partisan campaign to deny the vote to some citizens, in defiance of the constitutional guarantee of voting rights.

We have completed our tours of duty, but we do not forget our responsibilities. Our congressional representatives are our first line of defense. We rely on you to meet your obligations - to the Constitution, to the nation, and to us.

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