Think tanks wrap-up

June 15, 2002 at 2:23 AM
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WASHINGTON, June 15 (UPI) -- The UPI think tank wrap-up is a daily digest covering brief opinion pieces, reactions to recent news events and position statements released by various think tanks.

The Reason Public Policy Foundation

LOS ANGELES -- Stink bomb: the dirty bomb plot turns into an attack on the Constitution.

by Mike Lynch

"The concern we'd like to pursue is what's the substance of this," a congressional source told The Los Angeles Times after emerging Tuesday from an administration briefing on Jose Padilla, a.k.a. Abdullah al Muhajir, the alleged dirty bomber. "We're all for sticking bad guys in the hole, but you've got to have evidence."

But these days, the executive branch is making a neat end run around that tired old principle of "evidence for crimes." If it lacks such evidence -- or insists on keeping it secret -- the president can simply call a person an "enemy combatant" and ship him off to the custody of the armed forces, leaving the suspect with no counsel and no constitutional protections.

The United States has always prided itself on being governed by a written rule of law, not the arbitrary dictates of its momentary leaders. But the imperatives of the War on Terror are eroding that principle.

The dirty bomb story smelled bad from the outset. The FBI and CIA are under fire for lack of information-sharing, among other things. The president promised "preemptive action" during a speech at West Point on June 1. Worried talk of dirty bombs has filled the air for months.

Presto, Attorney General John Ashcroft is live from Moscow announcing Padilla's custody shift from Justice to the Defense Department, and praising the FBI, CIA, and other federal agencies for their "close cooperation."

Still, elements of the press remained skeptical. Articles appeared questioning the suspicious timing. Democrats and civil libertarians frustrated with the highly selective release of information accused the administration of news-cycle management. But the truth turns out to be even worse: the administration's hand was forced because it was scheduled to have to justify itself before the courts.

If the administration had its way, we'd never have heard of Padilla and his alleged plans to construct a dirty bomb. It was only when it was threatened with having to present evidence of such a plan in court that the government squeezed those lemons into lemonade, took credit for thwarting, in Ashcroft's words, a "terrorist plot to attack the United States by exploding a radioactive 'dirty bomb,'" and pushed Padilla into the never-never land of military custody.

This is where the rule of law comes in. Padilla is a U.S. citizen. The military tribunal system, at Bush's insistence, is for non-citizens. The administration points back to a 1942 U.S. Supreme Court decision under which U.S. citizens who were also German saboteurs were tried by a military court and executed two months after their capture. But the government is not interested in trying Padilla for a crime; it just wants to hold on to him indefinitely.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz told CBS's Early Show, "He's an enemy combatant and as in earlier wars, you can hold an enemy combatant until the end of the conflict."

His two bosses -- Donald Rumsfeld and George W. Bush -- have made the same point. "Our interest, really, in this case, is not law enforcement," said Rumsfeld. "It is not punishment." Declared Bush, "This Padilla's a bad guy and he is where he needs to be -- detained."

Some congressional leaders support the administration. "If you aid and abet the enemy, whether you are a citizen or not, you're not entitled to the rights of due process," says New York's senior Sen. Charles Schumer D-N.Y..

But how do we know he aided and abetted the enemy? It's due process -- the very thing the administration is denying Padilla -- that would determine this. This rights-denial is justified by our undeclared war on terrorism -- which is a declared war on anyone the government says is a terrorist.

The Padilla case is part of a pattern of government abuse of power. The government has detained hundreds of individuals in the aftermath of 9/11, holding some on violations of federal law, including immigration law, and others as material witnesses.

The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups have sued under the Freedom of Information Act to get such basic information as the detainees' names and names of their counsel. A New Jersey state court ruled against the government's policy of secret arrest and detainment.

Some of the cases are deeply troubling. Nabil Almarabh, a former Boston cab driver and terrorist suspect, was kept in solitary confinement without access to either a lawyer or a judge for eight months. If the Bush administration gets its way, Padilla could find himself in the same position for much, much longer.

(Mike Lynch is the national correspondent for Reason magazine.)

The Ludwig von Mises Institute

(The LVMI is a research and educational center devoted to classical liberalism -- often known as libertarianism -- and the Austrian School of economics. Grounded in the work of economists Ludwig von Mises and Murray N. Rothbard, LVMI seeks a radical shift in the intellectual climate by advancing the Austrian School of economics and by promoting the market economy, private property, sound money and peaceful international relations, while opposing government intervention as economically and socially destructive.)

AUBURN, Ala.-- The Mafia State

by William Anderson

With the passing of John Gotti, the former "head" of the Gambino crime family, we have been treated to a series of media stories, some of which condemn the Teflon Don and others versed in a grudging admiration for this character. These stories have managed to miss nearly every lesson this violent man's life had to show us.

Gotti was by all accounts a violent man. He was able to parlay his ruthlessness into wealth, albeit temporary, but it also led to his downfall. The world is full of violent men, however, few of whom are wealthy. The reason for Gotti's brief foray into wealth and power -- like that of another famous don, Al Capone -- ultimately came from the state, that same entity that finally imprisoned him until he died.

Reporters breathlessly wrote about Gotti's $2,000 suits, but failed to point out how the man was able to make that kind of money. He did it in two ways: one by providing goods that people wanted yet were prohibited by the state from obtaining, and the other by extracting and extorting money from people who rather would not have paid him.

The goods, of course, included drugs, prostitution, and gambling. (By running a lottery, the state of New York deprived Gotti's organization from providing the "numbers" game.) In the days of Al Capone, that group of forbidden things also included alcoholic


At that time, people who made and sold beer looked pretty scary; today, they look like members of the Coors family standing before a backdrop of the Colorado Rockies as they

advertise their products. This should tell us something about government prohibition.

As for Gotti's extortion rackets, they came in two forms, the first from members of labor unions and the second from business owners who received "protection." That many unions have been bastions of organized crime is hardly surprising. Since most unions are also wards of the state, however, and since they are the source of votes for the political classes, it is hardly surprising that Mafiosi have been able to operate pretty much unmolested on the docks and elsewhere.

(I might add that most government employee unions, such as the National Education Association, are pretty much mafia-free. Since those folks produce services that most people would rather not have, it is not surprising that the mafia would have nothing to do with them. Furthermore, government employee unions have their own violent entity doing their dirty work: the state.)

Like all other things "provided" by crime organizations, "protection" rackets sprang

from a need by small business owners to have their property protected from thieves and robbers. Although there was an implied threat from Mafiosi who offered "protection" for a small sum per week, most gangsters usually kept other predators away. (I am not endorsing this activity, since business owners who refused "protection" soon were provided reasons why they "needed" it in the first place.)

However, the reason that gangsters were able to move into neighborhoods and entice people with protection money was that police protection from the state virtually was

nonexistent. Given the proclivities of the state, most people came to prefer being protected by swaggering organized crime figures rather than by the bumbling government.

While organized crime figures had the reputation for violence, they generally were violent with each other, not the public at large. There have been exceptions, of course. A few months after a neighbor accidentally hit and killed Gotti's 12-year-old son with his car, he was hustled into a van and never seen again, no doubt the murder victim of the vengeful Gotti.

This is not to excuse the murder and mayhem that Mafiosi inflicted upon each other, but it needs to be pointed out that violence always accompanies markets that the state has

declared illegal. As mentioned earlier, during Prohibition, gangsters like Al Capone were in charge of producing and distributing alcoholic beverages.

Today, the producers and distributors generally are mild-mannered and law abiding, and their activities are not accompanied by violence, at least on their part. Or, as one libertarian friend put it to me, one does not see drivers of beer trucks shooting at each other.

Gotti achieved folk hero status for another reason: he managed to beat government criminal charges on a number of occasions, that is until the FBI was able to secretly record nearly every word he spoke by bugging his home and business club. Most law-abiding Americans recoil in horror at seeing someone "beat the rap," and in their frustration, they have permitted the political classes to push through laws that supposedly were aimed at "Mafia

kingpins," but instead have been turned full force on ordinary citizens.

Known as anti-drug laws and the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, these laws have eviscerated protections once provided by the U.S. Constitution and have resulted in thousands of innocent people being thrown into federal prisons.

Thus, when the government turns its full fury upon people, they rarely can stand up to federal prosecutors. Even wealthy people such as Michael Milken and Leona Helmsley, who commanded large amounts of resources, would fall before what, in essence, were trumped-up charges. Regular middle-class people don't stand a chance.

Therefore, when Gotti received "not guilty" verdicts, a large number of folks stood up and cheered. They were not applauding murder and other crimes; they simply understood that few people can withstand the blows of the state, and anyone who can do so is someone special.

Finally, we look at the modern state itself, which certainly has many of the worst characteristics -- and none of the good ones -- of the men of Cosa Nostra. Like John Gotti, the state can extort money from citizens.

Unlike Gotti, who never would have dreamed of demanding nearly half of a firm's profits, the state takes more than 40 percent of what a business collects over its costs.

Like Gotti, the state takes the lives of individuals. Unlike Gotti, it is rare that a representative of government who has killed someone, even if that killing is not in self-defense, ever faces justice for that homicide. From the government agents at Waco to the Air Force pilot who fired a missile into a Serbian passenger train and killed 24 innocent men, women, and children, these people either are praised as heroes or excused for causing "collateral damage."

For the most part, people realize that the federal government's private war against John Gotti did no good for the rest of us. Yes, Gotti was an unsavory character, a man that few of us would have wanted for a neighbor. Many people rightly feared him. However, the vast majority of us have much more to fear from the Teflon State than we ever did from the Teflon Don.

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