Based on recently-passed laws in Bush’s America, any one of us could be labeled an enemy combatant. We could be picked up and detained indefinitely, without any charges, and we’d be unable to tell our families about it. Furthermore, we wouldn’t even be able to talk to a lawyer about our rights. It might be irrelevant, as it seems like we’d have none at this point. So most Americans must think that the list of suspected terrorists or those on the watch list must be fairly short, right? After all, suspending the Bill of Rights and guarantees of the U.S. Constitution must be a rare honor, reserved for only the scum of society. Sadly, that’s not the case.
The ACLU Watch List Counter provides an approximate running count of the number of people on the government’s terrorist watch list. From the article (which was written about a year ago):
In September 2007, the Inspector General of the Justice Department reported that the Terrorist Screening Center (the FBI-administered organization that consolidates terrorist watch list information in the United States) had over 700,000 names in its database as of April 2007 – and that the list was growing by an average of over 20,000 records per month.1
At that rate, our list will have a million names on it by July. If there were really that many terrorists running around, we’d all be dead.
The uncontroversial contention that Osama Bin Laden and a handful of other known terrorists should not be allowed on an aircraft is being used to create a monster that goes far beyond what ordinary Americans think of when they think about a “terrorist watch list.”
This is not just a problem of numbers. The numbers are merely a symptom. What’s needed is fairness. If the government is going to rely on these kinds of lists, they need checks and balances to ensure that innocent people are protected. (See ACLU Backgrounder on Watch Lists for more)
The remainder of the article includes examples of names that are on the list. Note that many of them are dead (a fact that most members of the public would know). Members of Congress (mostly Democrats, of course) also made the list.
Of course, the problems with the list are numerous. The lists tend to be secret, and the way you get on them is just silly. Often, it’s just based on name matches. As someone who has been on the list and has been asked to go through “alternate procedures” at airports, it’s annoying to say the least. And how can one get off of the list? I was given a packet of documentation that required me to reveal just about every aspect of my personal life. If I provided that information to DHS, they’d be able to track me for life.
None of this should be legal in the United States. In a few years, I think most Americans will be shaking their heads in disbelief and will ask what they were thinking at the time. The Bush Administration’s anti-terrorism rhetoric will be remembered in the same way as we call McCarthyism and the Salem Witch Trials. Until then, the typical American will remain asleep at the wheel and will let Dubya and his puppet-masters trample individuals’ rights with no check, balance, or due process.