“If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest
of men, I will find something in them which will hang him.”
– Cardinal Richelieu
This morning Congressman Ron Paul is at his wife’s side at a Houston hospital. We hope all will go well and she will be released soon to help take up the “campaign for liberty.” As she recovers, it may be a good time to reflect on Ron Paul’s most important issue, the right of privacy and the right of citizens to live without an obtrusive, omnipresent, ever watching and listening government.
Conservative Republicans used to be the guardians of this principle. Now they lead the attack. In recent years liberal Democrats have argued for this kind of privacy but not anymore. And the media was always vigilant about it but not now. Now we all tell each other, Republican and Democrat alike, that, “If you don’t have anything to hide, why should you be afraid?” Let the government read your e-mails and listen to your phone calls. If they can catch a terrorist what is that compared to losing a little of your privacy?”
The problem is that the prisons are full of men and women who have been railroaded. This has been demonstrated in a shocking way by modern DNA, which has identified many innocent men serving prison time for murder and rape. But there is no equivalent bookkeeping DNA to clear the innocent white collar convicts, whose prosecutors are just as certain that they have their man or woman. Surely, some of those are also innocent.
When a Secret Service agent saw Michael Reagan, the president’s son, return an item in a store, he misunderstood and thought he was shoplifting. Gossip of the young Reagan’s kleptomania spread through the Service and in time reached the President’s ears. For more than two years the President believed his own Secret Service and not his son, until the facts finally cleared him.
If the President’s son can be misunderstood, so can you and me. One word spoken in jest over the telephone or out of context in a series of e-mails can trigger the audit that makes you the focus of attention. And once you are the focus, everything else they see and hear may only affirm their suspicion.
Sometimes this is the work of corrupt officials who, once begun, don’t want their investment in time and money wasted. It could jeopardize their career. That’s why they focused so long and hard at the wrong man in the Atlanta Olympic bombing and later the Anthrax mailings. But other times it is only the process, nothing personal. You were at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Of course, all of us would allow for court ordered surveillance of know terrorists. And all of us want suspected terrorists blocked from entering the country. But when the net is cast wide, as in hundreds of thousands of phone calls and e-mails, well, we might as well be in China.
Stories came to me by the box full during my time in the White House. A grandmother in Alaska who lost her fishing boat to the government because they found a joint of marijuana on it. And the government official – who participated in the raid – later buying the boat at government auction. Neat huh?
Of course, this has gone on all over the world for generations. It is why Jesus advises to settle a dispute quickly, lest you find yourself in prison. He makes no comment on your guilt or innocence. It is only good, general advice about process.
This is why the Constitution and Bill of Rights were written. The founding fathers were not protecting criminals. They were protecting us, from an intrusive, sometimes clumsy, sometimes evil government. We are now forfeiting those hard earned, well reasoned, personal liberties out of panic.
What is particularly interesting is how this ongoing American process is being watched with alarm from other countries. In Europe, for example, the left and the right and the noble and the commoner have routinely been arrested and imprisoned for political or personal reasons. Journalists, on the take, would write defaming articles to generate the appropriate outrage and then some ideologue or corrupt judge would give the ruling. Sometimes you could lose your liberty because you argued with the wrong person over a parking place. “Don’t you know who I am?” But in France, even heads of television networks and newspaper chains and big businesses were run in and out of prison when the left-right political battles got fierce.
America’s justice and journalistic community are almost pure by comparison. Occasionally you will see a conglomerate order one of its magazines to do a cover story on a motion picture produced by one of its subsidiaries. But usually, the media is not for sale. And you don’t see people thrown in jail over political or personal views.
So it is a bit touching and astonishing, to see Canada, the UK, France, Germany, Italy and other countries fighting for the rights of their citizens caught in the American snare. They are amazed at this ongoing process in our country. They, who have suffered outrageous injustices for centuries, or seen it manipulated by the nobility, are now shocked by our own self inspired, dismantling of our own system of justice.
Ron Paul has written “history demonstrates that the powers we give the federal government today will remain in place indefinitely. How sure are we that future presidents won’t abuse those powers?”
Remember Cardinal Richelieu? He was the grey imminence in The Three Musketeers. Only he really existed. He ruled with power in the 17th century at the First Minister to Louis XIII. His famous quote is a colorful variation of the modern cliche that “if the government wants you, it will get you.” Guilt or innocence are not even factors. “If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men I will find something in them which will hang him.”