The American Freedom Agenda: The Nation's Best Soft Diplomacy with Bob Barr and Bruce Fein, Chairman, American Freedom Agenda.
The American Freedom Agenda is a group of leading conservatives who aim to protect the Constitution by challenging the Bush administration's policies that they argue usurp legislative and judicial power. Join in a conversation with some of the alliance's founding members about their goals- The Commonwealth Club of California
Robert L. Barr, Jr. is an attorney and a former member of the United States House of Representatives from Georgia. Barr represented the 7th District of Georgia, from 1995 to 2003.
Barr is now a Life Member of, and on the National Committee for, the United States Libertarian Party.
John Diaz is the Editorial page editor for the San Francisco Chronicle.
Bruce Fein is a lawyer in the United States who specializes in constitutional and international law. Under President Ronald Reagan, Fein served as an associate deputy attorney general from 1981 to 1982 and as general counsel to the Federal Communications Commission.
Fundamental law of the U.S. federal system of government and a landmark document of the Western world. It is the oldest written national constitution in operation, completed in 1787 at the Constitutional Convention of 55 delegates who met in Philadelphia, ostensibly to amend the Articles of Confederation. The Constitution was ratified in June 1788, but because ratification in many states was contingent on the promised addition of a Bill of Rights, Congress proposed 12 amendments in September 1789; 10 were ratified by the states, and their adoption was certified on Dec. 15, 1791. The framers were especially concerned with limiting the power of the government and securing the liberty of citizens. The Constitution's separation of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government, the checks and balances of each branch against the other, and the explicit guarantees of individual liberty were all designed to strike a balance between authority and liberty. Article I vests all legislative powers in the Congressthe House of Representatives and the Senate. Article II vests executive power in the president. Article III places judicial power in the hands of the courts. Article IV deals, in part, with relations among the states and with the privileges of the citizens, Article V with amendment procedure, and Article VI with public debts and the supremacy of the Constitution. Article VII stipulates that the Constitution would become operational after being ratified by nine states. The 10th Amendment limits the national government's powers to those expressly listed in the Constitution; the states, unless otherwise restricted, possess all the remaining (or residual) powers of government. Amendments to the Constitution may be proposed by a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress or by a convention called by Congress on the application of the legislatures of two-thirds of the states. (All subsequent amendments have been initiated by Congress.) Amendments proposed by Congress must be ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures or by conventions in as many states. Twenty-seven amendments have been added to the Constitution since 1789. In addition to the Bill of Rights, these include the 13th (1865), abolishing slavery; the 14th (1868), requiring due process and equal protection under the law; the 15th (1870), guaranteeing the right to vote regardless of race; the 17th (1913), providing for the direct election of U.S. senators; the 19th (1920), instituting women's suffrage, and the 22nd (1951), limiting the presidency to two terms. See alsocivil liberty; commerce clause; Equal Rights Amendment; establishment clause; freedom of speech; judiciary; states' rights.
It should be noted that the Swiss Constitution is based on the US Constitution. Switzerland has a system that prevents undue power to the government. The people have, through a strong democratic system, the possiblity to stop any abuse made by the government.
Good evening and welcome to tonight's meeting of the Commonwealth Club of California. I am JohnDiaz, the Editorial Page Editor for The San Francisco Chronicle and your moderator for tonight. Wewould also like to welcome our listeners on the radio and invite everyone to visit us on the internet atwww.commonwealth.org. And now it is my pleasure to introduce our distinguished speakers, Chairmanof the American freedom agenda Bruce Fein and former United States Congressmen at the seventhdistrict in Georgia, Bob Barr good evening gentlemen.These gentlemen are here tonight to talk about the American Freedom Agenda which was formed by agroup of leading conservatives who are challenging the Bush administration's policies with regard tousurping legislative and judicial authority. The discussion tonight is going to focus on the first reallythe first consorted and highly public effort on the part of conservatives to repudiate and challenge theBush administration and uphold the government's responsibility to the US Constitution and the rule of law.I would like to start the discussion with introductory remarks from each of our guests. Let's start withthe Chairman of the American Freedom Agenda Bruce Fein. Mr. Fein is a Harvard graduate. Heserved during the Reagan administration in the Department of Justice. Mr. Fein, good evening.Thank you. I would like to begin my remarks by paraphrasing one of our founding fathers. And if hewere here today I think he would say as follows. "Caesar had his Brutus, Charles the First hisCromwell." And President George W Bush and Dick Cheney should learn by those examples. Theyhave asserted powers that exceed anything that was indicted against King George the Third in theDeclaration of Independence. If they would have read an earlier portion of that they would haverecognized that our rights are not at the sufferance of the President and the Vice President who candesist from claiming we are on a battle field where he can proclaim martial law anymore and at anymoment. But our rights are unalienable. We are endowed by our creator. With the right to life liberty inthe pursuit of happiness and they depend upon no monarch's grace.Let me outline some of the more outrageous usurpations that make you and all of the American peopleless safe in light of the President's precedence that he is setting that other foreign leaders may followand are discouraging foreign governments from cooperating with the United States in attacking international terrorism.Now just last week, a British parliamentary committee reported that the British were resistingcooperating with our CIA in conducting important covert operations because they feared detaineeswould be tortured or they would be maltreated at Guantanamo Bay. We have at present 26 former CIAoperatives under indictment in Italy because they kidnapped and sent to Egypt for torturing anindividual on President Bush's say so alone that he was a terrorist. Apparently he got it wrong; he isnow suing for redress. In Germany 13 former CIA operatives are under arrest warrants because theykidnapped a German citizen in Macedonia, dispatched him to Afghanistan for brutal treatment in aprison, dumped him back in Albania, he is now suing in the United States courts. He has been told bythe CIA he can't win under the states secret states secrets doctrine because to expose the culpritswould to be expose a state secret, an under cover agent.Now what do these kinds of cowboy like assertions do to the safety of the United States? Think this,the doctrine that's being propounded is that the President of the United States may identify in his say soalone anyone as a criminal or a terrorist abroad. On his say so alone dispatch our CIA or other covertoperates to kidnap that individual, place them in prison, torture them and dump them out. Now think ofyou perhaps visiting Paris. Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia, thinks you are sympathetic to theChechens. He sends the current version of the KGB to kidnap you, send then send you to a Belarusprison, say you are there indefinitely without a lawyer. And you ask him, "Well, how can you do this"?He says "Well President George W. Bush has set the example." And Mr. Putin would be correct.Now what else is President Bush doing that's causing us to be less safe. He is asserting a power toidentify any American citizen or non citizen as an enemy combatant on his say so alone. Now what isan enemy combatant? It's not confined to someone who was picked up on a active battlefield ofhostilities, attempting to kill an American, anyone who has any affiliation, has displayed any kind ofsupport, moral support or otherwise can be identified as an enemy combatant without any judicialreview, send to Guantanamo Bay for indefinite detention based up on secret evidence and thosedetainees do not have access to a lawyer. If they wish to challenge their detentions they can go beforewhat's called a Combatant Status Review Tribune. And for that tribunal the government is presumed tobe correct and infallible. Now that's an instruction of Mr. Bush who also claims that title toinfallibility, he never made a mistake during his you know, six years may be since birth. I think hethinks he issues encyclicals like the Vatican on the issues of faith and morals. But he does seem to getwrong more than once.But based up on the a kangaroo court you are then subject to detention, basically for life because thePresident says that we are in the condition of warfare. Under the constitution anytime that there is oneindividual on the planet, whether in Bhutan or otherwise, who are on top of a mountain, threatens tokill an American, well then we are at war. Now under that standard the war is endless. And JamesMadison informed us, with perpetual war there can be no freedom, because we are in a constant state ofjeopardy that the President will declare martial law and we will have military justice everywhere. Youknow this old saying goes; military music is to music what military justice is to justice. And that isbased up on a core truth. It's not because necessarily they are evil minded people. But remembermilitary justice is what the Founding Fathers described as the very essence of tyranny, because itcombines the prosecution function, the judicial function and the jury function in the same branch. Andyou don't get acquittals when the same person who charges you is the same person who decideswhether they are you are their charge was accurate or not.Now what else is the President doing than setting a very menacing standard for the United States. Youknow that the main challenge in defeating international terrorism is to dry up recruits. Well one of thebest recruiting tools that Al Jazeera and Al Qaeda have is examples of abuses. The Mahir Arar hewas a Syrian Canadian citizen who we deported to Syria, where he was tortured and dumped back in toCanada. We refused to apologize although the Canadians have paid him over a million dollars and saidwe made a mistake. Mr. al-Masri, who the Germans have insisted was not complicit in anywrongdoing, is now some one who is shown to have been brutalized in Afghan prisons and is put on AlJazeera TV like other grave victims and otherwise in order to encourage the disappointed anddisaffected youth in the Middle East to join Al Qaeda.It's the recruitment that comes from our injustices that makes us less safe. Every time that there is anexample of some one in Guantanamo Bay has been unjustly held, the people who recruit for Al Qaedasay, see this shows Bush isn't against terrorism. He just doesn't like those who subscribe to Islam. Nowone of the reasons why I think Bush has been so bold a President is because he has targeted the abuse atpeople whose names are difficult to pronounce. They are not Jones and Brown, well they are al-Masriand Hamdan and Hamdi. But that may play in the United States, it certainly is not some thing that'seffective in trying to convey to those who are in the Middle East and are the best recruits or would berecruits for Al Qaeda that we are applying even handed justice. And then the last element I suppose thatmakes us less safe is that President Bush is setting example of lawlessness that discourages Democratsand rule of law proponents abroad from believing that we would come to their aid in trying to turn theirregimes from despotism into democracies which would provide less fertile ground for jihadist to be developed.Now what are the ways in which the President is disregarding the rule of law? Well as it's often said, asa concession to the shortness of life I will listen I will certainly limit the cases. But as a smallsample, first he claims the right to flout the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 in gatheringphone intelligence. What his argument is that, post 9/11 he is been crowned with authority to doanything he wants to gather foreign intelligence and Congress has no authority to limit what he doesinto that banner of foreign intelligence, meaning he can open our mail, break and enter into our homes,kidnap us, survey all our e-mails, international phone calls, all in his say so alone, because he isgathering foreign intelligence. Indeed he has gone so far to say he can commit torture in the name ofgathering foreign intelligence even when he has signed a bill that prohibits torture, which leads us toanother element of his lawlessness. Under his theory of the Presidency, he is endowed with power tosign a bill into law and then say, but it won't comply with the portions that I don't agree with and I say are unconstitutional.Now if he knew history which he doesn't, he would remember that King James the Second wasoverthrown because he was claiming the comparable part to dispense with the laws of Recusancybecause James was favorable to the Catholics at that time. And for that reason the Founding Fatherswrote in the Article Two of the Constitution an obligation that the President take care that the laws befaithfully executed. It's a very clear, lucid, unambiguous language. But the President is interpreting thatto mean that he is entitled to sabotage the faithful execution of the laws by these signing statements,where he declares, without any judiciary view what the constitution means, what powers he has andthen ends up enforcing a law that Congress didn't pass. Congress only votes on entire bill, not on the Swiss cheese edition.The other elements that the President is employing are showing how he has a sneering contempt for thelaw. It was revealed just last week Bob, you may recall July 17th, he issued an order under what'scalled the International Economic Emergencies Powers Act stunning. He says that on his say so alonehe can identify anyone in the United States as creating a "significant risk of undermining reconstructionprogram in Iraq, or political reform by creating a risk that an act of violence might be committed." Andwhen he identifies you, he doesn't inform you. But you are instantly subjected to a financial deathpenalty. All your assets are frozen; no one then can do any business with you. In fact if Bob or I were alawyer who offered you if you are on this list legal services to challenge the constitutionality forwhat was done, we would be guilty of a crime. If a doctor came to offer services because someonesuffered a cardiac arrest they would be guilty of a crime, for providing any services to someone who ison the list. The list of course is not public. So you don't even know whether you are placing yourself injeopardy by providing support, services or goods to someone who has been blacklisted.Now this is something that goes far beyond the worst days of McCarthyism, at least there theyprovided in Attorney General's list that was public. This is not required even to be public. Now aPresident who had a decent respect for the Constitution would have had some lawyers, may be he hadAlberto Gonzales to look at this, before it was signed. And that was why it was so replete withconstitutional errors and omissions. But something of this seriousness in gravity is not to be jokedabout. Any yet the President treats the Constitution and the Rule of Law with his sneering attitude of"Oh why if I can be a president, do I have to obey any other injunctions?" He may decide to quit andgo act at Crawford, Texas if we harass him with the Constitution.But those are my closing observations; I just make this last remark. The constitution is a documentmore for us in this room than it is for public officials. They are all power hungry, they are all engagedin maneuvering for partisan purposes, we aren't. We have an oath even if it's not taken in a formal waylike the President to enforce in the Constitution and scrutinize our public officials and insist they besanctioned, removed from office, for flagrant violation because it's our liberty that's endangered. And Ithink that we all in this room have an obligation to insist that there will be movement in the Congressto make certain that the kind of violations that we witness repeatedly, far in excess of anything KingGeorge did that evoked the Declaration of Independence, result in some sanctions and the removalfrom office of those who can't be trusted with power, thank you.Thank you thank you Bruce Fein. As you can imagine might imagine, your comments aregenerating quite a few audience questions. We will get those a minute after Mr. Barr; but first thereminder that you are listening to the Commonwealth Club of California Radio Program, our speakerstonight are Bruce Fein, and former Congressmen Bob Barr. I am John Diaz moderating tonight'sprogram. We now welcome Bob Barr to make his introductory comments, Mr. Barr.Thank you John and that's an honor to appear once again with the Commonwealth Club of Californiaand as many, many listeners who take time from those things that legitimately occupies so much of ourtime but members of the Commonwealth Club and members of this listening audience do somethingthat far too few of our fellow citizens do. They take time out on a regular basis from all of those thingsthat do occupy our time, education, jobs, family, religion, community to listen to our speakers whodiscuss issues of both current and historic importance, to take time out to debate, question and discussthese issues and if there is one thought that I think is important, that permeates what what Bruce justsaid and what I think you come away with from every meeting of this Commonwealth Club ofCalifornia and that is the need to remind people just how important public discourse and private debateamong ourselves, as Bruce said, is so important to the quality not just of our lives and our communityand our time but to our fellow citizens all across this land and to those and so many foreign lands whosill legitimately look to America as the beacon of liberty.Let me John, if I could pick up where my very learned friend and colleague Bruce Fein left off andthat is with the constitution itself, the document that I consider the greatest document penned by thehand of man. I had read a book recently called The Young Patriots by a gentleman by the name ofCharles Cerami. And he recounts largely the thought process and the writing, the drafting of theConstitution by Mr. Madison and Mr. Hamilton and others. And toward the end of this book, YoungPatriots, Mr. Cerami makes the point that one would think looking at our constitution, looking atAmerica's importance and influence in the world, that other countries in the more than two centuriessince we adopted the Constitution as the foundational document for our country and our society, themany countries would have emulated that experience. And if you go to for example the US Archivesor the Library of Congress and look at the Constitutions that are operative in the world in this year2007 or those that have been operative in the world in the year since the adoption of our constitutionwell, more than two centuries ago, you might except to see many, many examples of constitutionswhere they have copied if not word for word, certainly the fundamental principles and structure ofour society representing as it does, they says. Mr. Reagan called it the last best hope of man on earth.Yeah Mr. Cerami Charles Cerami, when he researched his book, The Young Patriots and he went toand spend a great deal of time at the Library of Congress looking at, pouring over constitutions,current and prior from around the world, he found not a single constitution, not a single documentoperative in the world were since ours that that was similar to ours. And it got me thinking. Why isthat? Why is this document, the constitution that Bruce talks about and to which all of our nationalpublic officials and public officials at the local and state government swearing oath why is it that it isnot emulated and copied over and over and over again around the world? I think it's probably becauseit's a document that scares government. The constitution of the United States is a frightening documentto governments whether they are in Europe, here in our own hemisphere or any where else, why,because it is a document that tells the government, you are not all powerful, as a matter of fact youhave and will have only so much power as we elect in voluntarily or allow you to have. And that's afrightening thought for government, because why this government exists, why do governments exists?Governments exist to control, governments exist to gain, use and retain power.And as our Founding Fathers so magnificently realized, power comes from one source only and that isthe people, the people have the power. We are given the power, not by government, but by as Brucesaid, our creator. And we loan that power to government. But it's also important to keep in mind that nogovernment in this country or other countries is ever satisfied with the amount of power that it inheritsfrom its predecessor. Every government looks at the power, considers the power that it obtains andinherits from its predecessor government as a floor, not a ceiling but a floor. A floor of power in whichthey build, they look for new ways. And this administration is no different except in one respect. It hassought and continues to seek power in an unprecedented manner. There is not as far as this scholar orstudent of the constitution can tell any prior administration any administration in our history thathas viewed with such disdain of the constitution and what it stands for these United States in this administration.You see it in ways large and small. Bruce has recounted several recent examples. The decision by thecurrent administration to completely ignore, almost proudly, ignore the laws of this land duly passed byprior and current Congresses and signed by prior Presidents, that set out for example, the rules underwhich the government might surveil - might conduct surveillance of American citizens in this country.Prior administrations have recognized that laws, for example the Foreign Intelligence SurveillanceActually, those passed and signed by a prior President 30 years ago, in 1978, properly dictateswhether they like it or not properly dictates and tells any President the circumstances under whichthey can conduct surreptitious surveillance of American citizens in this country. Now prior Presidentshave looked at laws like that and made a calculated decision. Can we operate within the bounds of thatlaw? Can we carry out the duties and responsibilities that we as the president see in this place and timeduring our administration within the constraints of that law or can't we. And if we can, then we go tothe Congress of the United States which passed the original law back in 1978 and seek to amend it,make our case to the people, make our case to the Congress.This administration looks at the laws of this land and the constitution as something very different. Theylook at them as something to be ignored when you can and to be moved around like pieces on a chessboard whenever they kind of get in your way. We see this in the Foreign Intelligence SurveillanceActually, ignorance the ignoring of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act by the currentadministration. We see it in many other ways as well, large and small. Let's take a small way. Thatreally goes again to sort of a nature of how this administration views the constitutional laws of this landand the entire structure of government. Back during the Cold War era in East Germany there was astate agency called STASI S T A S I which was a secret police. And after the fall of the CommunistEmpire, controlled largely by the former Soviet Union, when the new governments that came in theGerman government for example, took over that part of Germany that had been ruled by theCommunist East Germany. They went into the archives and the files and the stored areas of STASI.And they found documents and files on virtually every citizen the legal citizens that East Germanyunder STASI that were recruited and volunteered or were recruited without volunteering to spy ontheir fellow citizens ran into the millions.They found something else that was fairly interesting. They found vials, closed vials of air and whatthey discovered in reading the documentation that accompanied these vials of air was these were vialsof smells. And they had been gathered over the years where the police the STASI had gone intosomebody's apartment or office or had investigated pieces of pieces of clothing or what not. Andthey had put the smells the odors in these vials; may be hoping for some day that, "Well this mightbecomes valuable." It was absolutely nonsensical of course. But is it that different from what ourGovernment is doing now in using the technology not of the Cold War Era, but of 2007 to listen into,to amass, to retain and to manipulate, because at some point in the future, something that one of usmight have said might be of interest to the government or when analyzed in the context of somethingelse that somebody else has said or done in the interim period might might suddenly reveal to somegovernment brainiac who the next terrorist might be and from when is the next terrorist attack mightcome. They have to at least our Government nowadays under this administration believes that it hasto accumulate, gather and retain all of that data all of that information.So the National Security Agency for example maintains millions upon millions upon millions of piecesof data going from e-mail, internet trafficking, phone conversations and the like, because somedaysomebody might use little bits of information in those communications to discover something thatmight to a future "Commander-in-chief." be of interest on that battlefield out there which as Bruceindicated, entails every inch of the globe; our streets, our communities, streets and the communities inEurope, Afghanistan, Iraq, anywhere else. It's that mindset that the Government exists apart quiteapart and separate from the people, to use the power that it see fit, for purposes that it desires now andin the future. And if anybody dares to raise a question about this, such as Former Deputy AttorneyGeneral James Comey did, in that darkened hotel room, and which the White House Council and theWhite House Chief of Staffs, elected officials at the time neither neither are the more elected officialgo to visit the Attorney General to try and get him highly sedative because of very painful medicalproblem that he was under at the time to sign off on the continuation of a surreptitious surveillanceprogram for America of American citizens and a dating mining data mining operation that as far aswe can tell is still ongoing.These are issues these are questions that we need to ask about, not just because of what they mean tothose of us today living through this dark period in our nation's history; but of what they mean tofuture generations as well and to the very fabric of our society based on that constitution. TheAmerican Freedom Agendas Agenda is very simple. To go to our leaders those candidates forPresident for example, alone in which Ron Paul has signed off on the American Freedom Agenda,and ask them to stand up once again as Founding Fathers did, for the writ of habeas-corpus thatactually means something unlike the way our current Attorney General views it as a throw away, assomething unimportant. To demand of our Public Officials and our candidates that they are actuallyadhere to the rule of law revolutionary concept, but one that is important to all of us certainly heretonight. And which is at the core of what the American Freedom Agenda which brings together folksfrom across the ideological spectrum to once again stand for the Constitution of the United Stateswhich uniquely and alone among all governing documents in the world; reiterates and recognizes thepropositions that we the people and not you the government are the proper repositories for power in our human society. Thank you.