On July 27th, 1996, one person was killed and 114 were injured when a terrorist set off a bomb at Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta during the 1996 Olympics. The disaster would have been much worse if not for one American hero. A security guard named Richard Jewell saw the suspicious bag, contacted the police, and moved people away from the area. His quick thinking doubtless saved many lives. And thanks to the utter incompetence of the American media and FBI, his heroic actions made him a villain. The FBI made him a prime suspect, and the piranhas in the national media instantly attacked, assuming that Richard Jewell was guilty until proven innocent. Fortunately, Richard Jewell had the right to an attorney. Fortunately, the FBI was forced by law to do a more comprehensive study. After a few months, it was obvious that Richard Jewell was a hero, not a criminal. He was exonerated by the FBI, though not by the nation. His rightful place as an American hero was denied, but he was found innocent of the false charges against him.* 9 years later, the actual bomber, Eric Rudolph, would be found.
If such a thing happens again, people like Richard Jewell would be best served to not tell anyone about a suspicious package. Because if they are seen as a suspect, the incompetence of CNN will be the least of their worries. If someone sees a suspicious package and tells the police, and if the FBI thinks that makes them a suspect, there will be no reason to investigate further. There will be no trial, nor will there need to be. Thanks to President Obama signing the most horrific law of his Presidency, the next Richard Jewell won’t be scapegoated to save the Olympics, then exonerated a few months later. The next Richard Jewell will be stripped of his American citizenship, then shipped off to Guantanamo Bay, where he will either be held indefinitely with none of the rights he was born with under the Constitution, or be tortured until he tells his torturers what they want to hear.
So despite the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of a right to trial, the Senate bill would let the government lock up any citizen it swears is a terrorist, without the burden of proving its case to an independent judge, and for the lifespan of an amorphous war that conceivably will never end.
President Obama has, with one stroke of his pen, made the concepts of “guilty” and “innocent” archaic. Now, there is only “dangerous” and “non-dangerous” and you better get in line on the right side. Bush famously said, “You’re either with us or against us in the war on terror.” He was speaking to nations. Obama has just said the same thing, except he was speaking to every American citizen. Of course, it doesn’t matter if you are “with us” or “against us”, it only matters if the government thinks you are against them. It is almost as if Obama is honoring Kim Jong-il by enacting a law that you would think would only be allowed in a totalitarian state.
As we saw with Richard Jewell, in determining the right from wrong, the black from the white, mistakes are sometimes made. It no longer matters. Those mistakes will simply disappear into the black hole of secret prisons, never to be heard from again. The next American hero who is the wrong place at the wrong time will simply disappear. The flight from Atlanta to Guantanamo is a short one. George Orwell was off by 28 years.
*Perhaps it makes me a conspiracist, but I’ve always thought that the FBI knew all along that Jewell was innocent, but wanted people to think they had the bomber in custody so they’d feel safe at the Olympics, by far the most corporate-laden Olympics in history. There was far too much money on the line for the stands to be empty.