Nearly five years after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, our political culture has been warped beyond recognition. Fear and repression are the two ingredients that fuel the Bush White House, and anyone who dares say otherwise is branded as unpatriotic at best, a traitor at worst.
The Ninth Annual Muzzle Awards, presented every Fourth of July since 1998, single out enemies of free speech and civil liberties in New England. There’s plenty this year to be alarmed about: Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s presidential pandering to anti-Muslim sentiment; a decision by Fourth of July parade organizers in Maine to ban an anti-war group; Rhode Island middle-school officials’ calling in the Secret Service to interrogate a seventh-grader who’d written an imaginatively violent essay.
But all of this pales when compared with the regime of shadows and secrecy presided over by George W. Bush. From the National Security Agency’s no-warrant wiretapping program to CIA prisons in Eastern Europe, from prisoner abuse at Guantánamo to the endless war in Iraq, Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney have transformed our country into something that would have been unrecognizable before they took office.
Consider just a few under-publicized examples of Bush’s contempt for freedom of expression and civil liberties:
• Librarians in Windsor, Connecticut, went to court last August rather than turn over their patrons’ records to the FBI. But under the onerous terms of the Patriot Act, they were not allowed to protest publicly or even to reveal their identities until this past May, when a judge finally removed the gag. “Being allowed to speak now is like being allowed to call the fire department after the building has burned to the ground,” said George Christian, executive director of the Library Connection of Windsor. The fight to keep the library’s records confidential continues.
• The NAACP and All Saints Episcopal Church, of Pasadena, California, two outspoken opponents of the Bush administration and its policies, have been subjected to audits by the Internal Revenue Service. In Pasadena, the audit came after the Reverend George Regas delivered a sermon titled “If Jesus Debated Senator Kerry and President Bush.” According to reports, Degas said at one point, “Mr. President, your doctrine of pre-emptive war is a failed doctrine.”
• At the Justice Department, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and FBI director Robert Mueller circulated an e-mail saying that one of their “top priorities” is to create an anti-pornography squad in order to keep tabs on what Americans are viewing in the privacy of their own homes. “I guess this means we’ve won the war on terror,” said one anonymous (and disgusted) FBI agent.
• On Capitol Hill, the president is pushing two constitutional amendments. One — shades of his father — would outlaw desecration of the American flag, a protected if rarely used form of protest. The other would ban same-sex marriage, which, after all, is already illegal in 49 states. Except for the ill-fated Prohibition amendment, these would be the only changes to the Constitution that took away rights rather than expanded them.
Indeed, the Bush administration’s repressive actions are so pervasive that they extend to our local Muzzles: the mastermind of a surveillance program targeting anti-war groups in Maine, Rhode Island, and at least four other states is former deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz.