Silencing Political Dissent: How Post-September 11 Anti-Terrorism Measures Threaten Our Civil Liberties
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  • Paperback
  • 110
  • July 2002
  • 9781583224946

Silencing Political Dissent: How Post-September 11 Anti-Terrorism Measures Threaten Our Civil Liberties

Nancy Chang

Foreword by Howard Zinn

In her groundbreaking new book, Silencing Political Dissent, constitutional expert Nancy Chang examines how the Bush administration's fight against terrorism is resulting in a disturbing erosion of First Amendment rights and increase of executive power.

Chang's compelling analysis begins with a historical review of political repression and intolerance of dissent in America. From the Sedition Act of 1798, through the Smith Act of the 1940s and the internment of Japanese Americans in World War II, to the FBI's infamous COINTELPRO program of the 1960s, Chang recalls how during times of crisis and war, the U.S. government has unjustly detained individuals, invaded personal privacy, and hampered the free speech of Americans.

In compelling and lucid language, Chang describes how "just six weeks after [September 11], a jittery Congress—exiled from its anthrax-contaminated offices and confronted with warnings that more terrorist assaults were soon to come—capitulated to the Bush Administration's demands for a new arsenal of anti-terrorism weapons." Over strenuous objections from civil liberties groups on both ends of the political spectrum, Chang describes how Congress overwhelmingly approved the "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act," better known by its acronym, The USA PATRIOT Act. The House vote was 356-to-66, and the Senate vote was 98-to-1. This hastily-drafted, complex, and far-reaching legislation spans 342 pages. "Yet," writes Chang, "it was passed with virtually no public hearing or debate, and it was accompanied by neither a conference nor a committee report."

Chang also describes how, since September 11, the Bush administration has vastly increased its own executive powers. She writes, "When the Bush administration has lacked authorization from Congress for its domestic anti-terrorism measures, it has authorized them by executive fiat. On the basis of interim agency and directives, and under cover of secrecy, the administration has interrogated without suspicion, arrested without charge, and detained without justification as many as two thousand Muslim nationals of Middle Eastern and South Asian countries. Yet to date, the only indictment for a crime directly relating to the September 11 attacks has been that of Zacarias Moussaoui, who was arrested prior to the attacks. Through these measures, the administration has all but officially sanctioned the practice of ethnic and religious profiling."

Chang's expertise as a senior constitutional attorney shines through in the power and clarity of her argument. Meticulously researched and footnoted, Chang's book forces us to challenge the government when it is unpopular to do so, and to consider that perhaps "our future safety lies in the expansion, rather the contraction, of the democratic values set forth in the Constitution."


"A tightly argued book." —The Los Angeles Times

"Take a little of your time to read Nancy Chang's Silencing Political Dissent. If this incisive explanation of the government's current assault on America's constitutional freedoms and due process doesn't motivate you toward the defense of democracy, it is likely that you either don't use your rights or care enough about their protection for others." —Ralph Nader

"An invaluable primer … Everyone living in America should read Chang's concise and clarifying book, and use it as the foundation for a new habit of vigilance. Freedom is not a natural, consistent, or inevitable state of being; it's a construct, a cooperative effort, an ongoing work of art that we must all contribute to and safeguard, lest it be dismatled and erased." —Donna Seaman, Speakeasy Magazine

"Silencing Political Dissent is the stuff of sleepless nights. Read it, and be warned." —Eleanor J. Bader, The Progressive

"Nancy Chang's Silencing Political Dissent is more than a brilliant, lucid legal analysis. It is a deeply felt, passionately argued, articulate polemic of the defense of human rights in this country. Anyone who cares about America should read this book." —Martin Garbus

"Silencing Political Dissent offers a compelling primer in the ways that responding to fear can endanger—and has already endangered—the freedoms and liberties that define us as a nation. Nancy Chang explains in clear, concise, and jargon-free language why the government's response to September 11 poses the greatest threat to civil liberties that most of us have experienced in our lifetime, and illustrates with historical examples why so much of what we have done is a mistake. A must-read for anyone concerned about just what kind of freedom will actually survive Operation Enduring Freedom." —Professor David Cole, Georgetown University Law Center

"Nancy Chang was among the first to analyze the Ashcroft/Bush assault on human rights. This is an indispensable book for anyone who wants to understand the current crisis." —Michael Tigar

"In a crude exploitation of the anguish and concern over the terrorist atrocities of Sept. 11, the Bush administration has sought to implement favored programs that have no relation to terrorism and would be sure to arouse protest if it could not cynically wield the weapon of "patriotism" to silence opposition. That includes steps to strengthen unaccountable executive power and curb independent thought and expression. Chang's study expertly reviews these threats, which should be understood and resisted by those who value their freedom and democratic rights." —Noam Chomsky

"This is an essential book for anyone who wants to make the Bill of Rights entirely relevant in the age of Bush-Ashcroft." —Nat Hentoff

"This analysis by Nancy Chang should be read by everyone concerned with a free society." —Howard Zinn, from the foreword

About Nancy Chang

NANCY CHANG is the Senior Litigation Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York City. Nancy’s work at CCR has focused on protecting the First Amendment rights of political activists against government efforts to silence dissent, safeguarding civil liberties against measures taken in the name of national security, protecting the constitutional rights of immigrants, and combating racial profiling.

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