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A Thirsty Evil

Are you a terrorist? If you don't know, you'd better find out fast. Because Uncle Sam's made a list and he's checking it twice -- "40 to 50 countries" targeted for possible "U.S. action," according to America's securely-located vice president, Dick "Chicken Hawk" Cheney. As the man says, a hard rain's a-gonna fall.

So here's a simple test to check your moral worthiness and see if you can escape God's -- sorry, Bush's -- all-devouring wrath. Have you ever gone out for a beer and bought a Stella Artois instead of a Bud? Then you, my friend, have engaged in a conspiracy to cause "adverse effects" to the economy of the United States. And that makes you one of the evildoers.

So says the great Oval Object in his latest executive order, in which he grants himself the power to have anyone he designates as a terrorist to be tried by secret military tribunals and executed without appeal. Bush's dread edict -- which of course takes effect without any input from that useless appendage of a bygone era, the U.S. Congress -- covers anyone who "causes, threatens to cause" or even "has as their aim" to cause "adverse effects" on, among other things, the American economy or U.S. foreign policy.

As always, Bush alone retains the right to decide who is and who is not a terrorist, just as he alone decides what constitutes an "adverse effect" on the United States. Could be a bomb, a boycott, a protest, a tariff -- or the wrong beer: it's his call.

The edict gives him the power to seize any non-U.S. citizen, in any country on earth, and to subject him or her to secret summary justice. There is no outside check or oversight of this exercise of universal dominion, and no legal recourse for the accused -- not even to the laws of their own country.

Never has a single person in the history of the world laid claim to such absolute power -- and commanded the military might to back it up. For we should also note that Bush now has the authority to launch attacks against any nation he chooses, at his own discretion, without a vote by Congress or that other withered appendage, the United Nations.

And if you don't like it, pal, you can tell it to the judge. The military judge. Just before he puts a bullet in your brain.

But what about malcontents in what Bush now calls "the Homeland?" Hey, we got it covered. The U.S. government now has the power to prosecute any public expression of dissent as an act of "domestic terrorism," thanks to the super-duper new "U.S.A. Patriot" Act passed, in the dead of night, by Congress late last month -- a law which most of the dangling legislative appendages freely admit they never read before the vote.

Under the new law, you are a "domestic terrorist," subject to 25 years in prison, if you engage in acts intended to "influence the policy of government by intimidation or coercion." Which is, of course, the very definition of public protest: the attempt to force policy changes on reluctant governments through an unsettling display of popular will.

In this case, the Imperial Executive has delegated power to his most faithful minion: Attorney General John Ashcroft. It is Ashcroft -- the only senator in U.S. history to be rejected by voters in favor of a dead man -- who will now define the limits of freedom in America.

And Ashcroft -- a prissy religious crank like his boss -- has gone about his task with Christian zeal. (After all, your true believers know there is a higher law than that secular humanist rag, the constitution.) For example, just last week, Ashcroft stripped prisoners of the ancient right to confer with legal counsel in private, conferring upon himself the power to monitor any such conversation whenever he sees fit.

This also applies to people being held without any charge at all -- and there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, in that category now. We don't know the exact number, because Ashcroft no longer tells anyone -- including the Appendages -- how many people he's holding, or why he's holding them, or who they are, or where they might be, or what he's going to do with them. But not to worry; he's taking good care of his nameless captives. Why, only one has died in custody so far. At least that we know about.

Because Ashcroft's not telling.

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