Arbitrary Rule Comes to America

Sherwood Ross

Doug Thompson, the Capitol Hill Blue E-zine founder and a guy who has a knack for reporting events from inside the White House first, says he can’t board an airliner. He’s on a Federal “No Fly” terrorist “watch list.” Thompson recently wrote Bush told staffers the Constitution is “just a goddamned piece of paper” and Bush seems to be out to prove him right.

I don’t know Thompson but I do have a slight acquaintanceship with John Graham, a former State Department career officer who served in Viet Nam--- who also made the list. Graham recently got a standing ovation at the conclusion of a talk to West Point cadets. An inspiring man, he runs “the Giraffe Project,” dedicated to American heroes who “stick their necks” out.

Time magazine once devoted its Americana page to Graham’s outfit and he’s the recipient of numerous honors and awards.  When Graham tried to find out why he was on the list, they wouldn’t tell him, of course.

Let’s use some common sense. Supposedly, there are 80,000 Americans on the list. Is it believable there are so many potential terrorists? If an individual commits a terrorist crime, or urges one, fine, make an arrest and have a trial. But to ban people from flying on “suspicion,” with no charges, no trial, and no way to clear their names? Big Brother is watching. He’s here. Now.

This is arbitrary injustice. It’s the hallmark of how the totalitarian state operates. It’s government by whim. It’s capriciousness. It’s I-say-so-and-I’m-the-Boss despotism. Once upon a time, when Josef Stalin heard a school teacher criticize him, he packed 30,000 teachers off to the Gulag. Hardly a day passed when Stalin’s NKVD didn’t bring him a list of names, maybe 500, maybe 3,500, marked for execution. Did he review each case? Ha! He’d sign the paper and hand it to his No 2 Molotov, who would scribble the counter-sign, and that was the end of victims.

Those on the list didn’t have to be “terrorists,” just critics of the paranoid nuthouse Stalin called Soviet Russia. They didn’t have to be critics, either. Some were just “unlucky” in they happened to teach school. Or were army officers or Jews or had received foreign visitors in their homes. Bystanders watching their neighbors dragged from their homes would say, “If only Stalin knew!” Except Stalin was the criminal architect in charge of the arrests and murders.

Hitler’s thugs operated the same way. Many a man who “looked Jewish” was beaten up by the brown shirts. People were arrested and murdered based on their faith, ancestry, or appearance. (Also, if they lived in a good apartment or had a bank account worth looting.) And not only Jews and Gypsies. More 1,200 Catholic priests were murdered.

It’s a given the totalitarian state must have its “devils.” And the totalitarian Pig-in-Charge decides personally on how to punish them. Hitler tossed his opponents into Dachau. Torture was also psychological: they weren’t told how long they’d be in prison and they got no lawyers or trials.

Well, President George W. Bush has 500 captives locked up in Gitmo the same way, some for years now. Many of the innocent among them are wondering ---- just like those on the Federal No Fly list --- what am I being charged with? And the U.S. military and CIA have arrested and tortured hundreds of men around the world with no court orders. It’s arbitrary. It’s not based on legal procedure; it’s government by zealous men.

Two years ago, Washington invoked the USA Patriot Act to revoke the visa for Tariq Ramadan, the Islamic scholar. The ACLU is saying he was denied entry because of his politics. (He’s a moderate.) According to Knight-Ridder, “The Bush administration has never fully explained its decision to revoke Ramadan’s visa…” Of course not! Dictatorships don’t have to explain nothin’ to nobody. They’re arbitrary and capricious.

U.S. counsels are also capricious when foreign youngsters apply for visas to study in the U.S. There are countless reports of arbitrary rejections. The result is American universities are losing students to Mexico, Spain, and other countries that still have sane admissions policies.

Add it all up. The denial of a citizen’s right to travel. A war based on lies. Men held in prison indefinitely. Got the picture? I’ll spell it for you: t-o-t-a-l-i-t-a-r-i-a-n-i-s-m.

© 2006 by Sherwood Ross

Sherwood Ross contributes to national magazines and publicizes worthy causes.
Contact him at

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