John — T-shirt, Web site spark challenges to U.S. rights

Topic(s): Civil Rights | Comments Off on John — T-shirt, Web site spark challenges to U.S. rights

Thursday, March 6, 2003 Posted: 5:06 PM EST (2206 GMT)
WASHINGTON (Reuters) — Free speech, a key tenet of the U.S. Constitution,
is facing unusual challenges in pre-war, post 9/11 America — where wearing
an anti-war T-shirt prompted an arrest and lampooning the vice president’s
wife drew a letter from a White House lawyer.
The creator of a satirical Web site that took aim at Lynne Cheney, wife of
Vice President Dick Cheney, said he felt a chill when the letter on White
House stationery arrived.
“I read it very carefully and while I could see that technically it was a
request … the overall tone of it and the citing of various and sundry
cases was obviously threatening in nature,” John Wooden said by telephone
from Brooklyn, New York. “You don’t get just a request from the vice
president’s office.”
The letter from David Addington, a counsel to the vice president, asked
Wooden to remove pictures and a “fictitious biography” of Mrs. Cheney from
the site, www.whitehouse.org.
Instead, Wooden added red clown noses to pictures of Mrs. Cheney, over the
word “CENSORED,” and posted Addington’s letter. A Cheney aide who asked not
to be identified said neither the vice president nor Mrs. Cheney were aware
of the letter before it was sent and consider the matter closed.
The New York Civil Liberties Union has taken up the case and is waiting for
a reply from the White House, since it considers this matter typical of an
atmosphere of repression in the United States.
“It’s clear that the Bush-Cheney administration has put the blocks in place
for a repressive climate on even the most fundamental and obvious of issues,
like the right to have a Web site that satirizes the vice president’s wife,”
said Donna Lieberman, the group’s executive director.
Lieberman said another sign of the times was the arrest earlier this week of
a lawyer at a public mall near Albany, New York. The lawyer was charged with
trespassing after refusing to take off a “Give Peace A Chance” T-shirt he
had just bought at the mall.
The New York group’s parent, the American Civil Liberties Union, has
reported a 15 percent surge in membership since the September 11, 2001,
hijack attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Civil libertarians raised concerns soon after the attacks that the wish to
find the guilty might result in violation of individual rights. They
continue to chafe at the USA Patriot Act, passed 45 days after the attacks,
which gave the government greater powers to eavesdrop and detain immigrants.
Taking aim at Patriot Act
The ACLU launched a campaign against new legislation being drafted by the
Justice Department that would create a terrorist identification database and
limit the disclosure of certain information and allow pretrial detention of
suspected terrorists without bail.
In full-page advertisements in The New York Times and The Washington Times,
the ACLU said the Patriot Act makes it legal “for government agents to break
into your home when you are away, conduct a search — and keep you from
finding out for days, weeks or even months that a warrant was ever issued?”
The ad said the new legislation, dubbed Patriot II, would give the
government “even broader authority to search our homes, learn what we read,
find out where we vacation and monitor what drugs our doctors prescribe.”
Justice Department officials confirmed that the new legislation was being
drafted in February, but Attorney General John Ashcroft said at a
congressional hearing this week that the legislation had not been finalized.
Constitutional law expert Neal Katyal of Georgetown University said the
Patriot Act and its possible sequel are not in and of themselves dangers to
individual U.S. rights, but said various moves by the Bush administration
since 9/11 add up to “a dramatic attack on civil liberties in this country.”