For Immediate Release: September 18, 2003
New Report Documents How U.S Government Has Fundamentally Changed Its Relationship with the People It Serves
NEW YORK – Over the two years since the 9/11 attacks, the relationship between the U.S. government and the people it serves has changed dramatically. This “new normal” of U.S. governance is defined by “the loss of particular freedoms for some, and worse, a detachment from the rule of law as a whole,” a new report by Human Rights First finds.
“Two years after the attacks, it is no longer possible to view these changes as aberrant parts of an emergency response,” said Michael Posner, the Executive Director of Human Rights First. “Rather, the expansion of executive power and abandonment of some well-established civil and criminal legal safeguards have become part of a new normal in American life.”
Some of the most dramatic examples of this “new normal” include:
Sidestepping the U.S. courts. Perhaps the most pronounced change in U.S. policy is the sharp departure from the principles guaranteeing that like cases will be treated alike, and that all will have recourse to fair and independent courts as a check on executive power. Since 9/11, the executive has established a set of extra-legal institutions that bypass the federal judiciary – the most well known are the military commissions and the detention center at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. (See Chapter 4)
Less information about public government, more information about private individuals. The two years since 9/11 have seen a shift away from the core U.S. presumption that the government is largely open to public scrutiny, while the personal information of individuals is largely protected from government intrusion. Today, the default in America has become just the opposite: the work of the executive branch increasingly is conducted in secret, but unfettered government access to personal information is becoming the norm. (See Chapters 1-2)
A shift in U.S. position toward immigrants and refugees. Far from viewing immigrants as a pillar of strength, U.S. policy now reflects an assumption that immigrants are a primary national threat. Through the expenditure of enormous resources, the civil immigration system has become a principal instrument to secure the detention of “suspicious” individuals when a government trawling for information can find no conduct that would justify their detention on any criminal charge. (See Chapter 3)
The Ripple Effect of U.S. Actions. Around the world, counterterrorism has become the new rubric under which opportunistic governments seek to justify their actions, however offensive to human rights. Indeed, governments long criticized for human rights abuses have publicly applauded U.S. policies, which they now see as an endorsement of their own longstanding practices, and as a basis for new draconian measures. (See Chapter 5)
“Assessing the New Normal” describes and analyzes specific changes to U.S. law and security policy in five areas:
Chapter One: Open Government
This chapter examines how the U.S. government operates under a framework of increased secrecy that encompasses both specific initiatives and a more general pattern of less openness about the way important executive branch decisions are made. The chapter discusses:
- Rollbacks of the Freedom of Information Act that could limit public access to important health, safety and environmental information.
- The USA PATRIOT Act and the proposed Victory Act.
- The executive’s increased powers to classify information – and to withhold information without the formal process of classification.
- Executive branch efforts to restrict congressional access to information.
- Growing bi-partisan Congressional concern that too much secrecy may well result in less security.
- Increased deference of the courts to executive branch secrecy.
Chapter Two: Personal Privacy
This chapter discusses the expansion of government power to pry into Americans’ private lives, including:
- The USA PATRIOT Act and the easing of restrictions on government searches and seizures, including searches targeted at library and other consumer records.
- The lifting of limits on foreign intelligence and domestic spying powers.
- The expansion of government data-gathering efforts and the Terrorism Information Awareness program.
- The Terrorist Threat Integration Center.
- The establishment of air passenger profiling.
Chapter Three: Immigrants, Refugees and Minorities
This chapter covers shifts in U.S. policy on immigrants and refugees, including:
- The Justice Department’s moves to increase state and local participation in the enforcement of federal immigration law.
- New hardships for refugees seeking asylum.
- The effects of the administration’s now-terminated blanket registration and information-gathering programs; and the treatment of the post-9/11 detainees.
Chapter Four: Unclassified Detainees
This chapter analyzes the executive’s new blended system of criminal law enforcement and military detention – a system the report describes as a “mix and match” approach. The chapter includes:
- Discussions of the military detention of U.S. citizens (Jose Padilla and Yaser Hamdi) without access to counsel.
- The president’s proposed military commissions.
- The applicability and interpretation of the Geneva Conventions for the treatment of civilians and prisoners of war (including those held at Guantanamo).
- The absence of judicial oversight in many of these cases.
Chapter Five: The United States and International Human Rights
This chapter canvasses how opportunistic governments have relied cynically on the U.S. “war on terrorism” as a basis for internal repression of domestic opponents. It also analyzes how U.S. actions have encouraged other countries to disregard domestic and international law. And the chapter discusses how political refugees are bearing the brunt of the new international climate as countries from Australia to France treat all immigrants, including refugees seeking asylum, as security risks.
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Assessing the New Normal: Liberty and Security for the Post-September 11 United States is the third report in a series. A Year of Loss was published in September 2002 and Imbalance of Powers was published in March 2003.