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You Have No Rights
Posted on Aug 14, 2007
Matthew Rothschild, editor of The Progressive and author of “You Have No Rights,” explains how our president became a “medieval king,” and why your civil liberties are in greater danger than ever.
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James Harris: Here again on Truthdig this is James Harris with Josh Scheer. On the phone is Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive and the author of the new book “You Have No Rights.” I feel like I have some rights left, and so do other Americans. So why did you choose this title for your book?
Matthew Rothschild: I took the title of the book from a couple of brothers, Yasser and Hany Ibrahim, who were Egyptians living in the United States after 9/11 and they had the police come knock on their door, come in and drag them away and hold them in a pen for 24 hours where they weren’t allowed even to go to the bathroom. And then they dragged them through the Metropolitan Detention Center, banging their heads against the walls, especially on the wall that had an American flag on it. And then these guards played a little sadistic game, stepping on the chain between their legs, and then they’d fall down, and then the guards would say “Get up!” and then they’d step on the chain and then they’d say “Get up!” again. Ultimately, one of the brothers said to the guards, “Look, don’t we have any rights here?” And the response came back, “You have no rights.” What rights do we have, actually, if the president can say, even of U.S. citizens, that you’re enemy combatants and throw you in jail as he did, into solitary confinement, of two American citizens: Yaser Hamdi and Jose Padilla. And the Military Commissions Act allows them to identify any of us as an enemy combatant, and if you’re not a U.S. citizen, you can be thrown into jail and never have a right to talk to a lawyer or see a courtroom again for the rest of your lives.
Josh Scheer: Or they can outsource you for torture.
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Harris: Now, something—.
Rothschild: Now, just let me go on for a second.
Rothschild: What Fourth Amendment rights to privacy do we have if the NSA, the National Security Agency, can spy on us without a warrant when the law says they need to have a warrant to spy on us? What First Amendment rights do we have to protest if we can’t protest in front of the president or the vice president, but if we have to go to some free-speech zone a half-mile or a mile or a mile and a half away where they can’t even see us?
Harris: You’ve been called a madman. and I’m sure you’ve been called anti-American. I don’t know if you know, but an executive order was issued by the president, I believe on the 17th of July, and it said, basically, that if you protest or threaten what he calls “stabilization efforts in Iraq,” your property can be seized and you can be detained. Were you aware of that?
Rothschild: I have the order in my hand. I was just writing something on the computer to update our website with something on that. Yeah. If you are—in the mind of the secretary of the Treasury—posing a significant risk of committing an act of violence—you don’t have to have committed an act of violence. If he thinks you are at risk of committing an act of violence in order to protest the policies of the Iraqi government or the Bush administration’s policies to promote what it calls “economic reconstruction and political reform in Iraq,” then the secretary of the Treasury can put a freeze on all your assets. This is unbelievable. What Bush is trying to achieve here, by executive order, are things that he can’t achieve legislatively. Someone’s got to put a stop to this. Congress has got to put a stop to it because he is seizing all sorts of authoritarian powers right now by executive decree.
Harris: But Matthew, let’s be real for a second. Here we are, year four of this war. Given what you’ve seen so far from Congress, can they really make a change in this war? Can they really change the mind of George Bush?
Rothschild: They’re going to have to step up to the plate sometime, or we can kiss our Constitution goodbye, because Bush is trampling all over it. Cheney’s trampling all over it. What needs to happen, in my mind, is impeachment proceedings of the House Judiciary Committee against Bush and against Cheney, to make them know that they are going to be held accountable or at least there’s going to be a process to try to hold them accountable, that they can’t get away scot-free with all this stuff, and to tell the next president or the one after that that they can’t get away with this stuff.
Scheer: People talk about—you know, Bush has talked about this so many times—“They hate us for our freedom.” That was a line used long ago. People talk about, “Visit the free country, the free country, the free country.” Why don’t people realize that when you take away the Constitution, even the parts you dislike, you’re really hurting the freedom? Or is that just a word that’s being bantered around, like any kind of spin?
Rothschild: I wish more people in this country would really revere the First Amendment, the Fourth Amendment, the Fifth Amendment, the Sixth Amendment and the Eighth Amendment. But Cheney and Bush themselves are intolerant of the freedoms that are enshrined in our Bill of Rights. In my book, “You Have No Rights,” I tell the story of a guy named Steve Howards who was walking through Beaver Creek, Colo., an open-air mall there and, of all people, Dick Cheney is there, shaking hands. And Steve Howards goes up to the vice president, about three feet away, and says, “Mr. Vice President, I think your policy in Iraq is reprehensible.” ... And then he walked away. But the Secret Service approached him 10 minutes later and said, “Did you assault the vice president of the United States?” And Steve Howards said, “No, I was just expressing my First Amendment rights.” And they responded, “No, you assaulted the vice president of the United States. You’re under arrest.”
Harris: They arrested him?
Rothschild: They arrested him.
Scheer: Do you think Cheney was the one who said, “He was the one who assaulted me”?
Rothschild: I don’t know. But the Secret Service has a policy now, not only of protecting the president and the vice president from assassination, but protecting the president and the vice president from dissent, and that’s not their job.
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