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It can happen here 

In fact, it is

Here are two recent episodes that should scare the hell out of Americans as we try to measure the craters in our national soul left by the explosions of Sept. 11.

First, on Nov. 20, U.S. Rep. Saxby Chambliss told cops in Valdosta that officials should "just turn [the sheriff] loose and have him arrest every Muslim that crosses the state line."

He justified this obscenity -- racist on its face, not to mention illegal, immoral and anathema to America's concepts of freedom and justice -- as a way to bolster domestic security.

Chambliss (R-Dumbasarock), who wants to move his bigotry to the U.S. Senate, didn't realize that Bill Roberts, a reporter from the Valdosta Daily Times, was tape recording his remarks.

When it became apparent he had been busted, Chambliss did what any reptilian politician would do -- he turned bully and tried to have the sheriff lean on the newspaper's publisher to have the story killed. "Saxby later claimed he didn't do that," Roberts told me. "That simply isn't true."

Was Georgia outraged? Hardly. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution yawned about it in a half-dozen minor stories and columns. Jim Wooten, the rightwing bullhorn of the AJC, did his damnedest to salvage Chambliss' image by writing off the remarks as "lame attempts at humor." Ha, ha.

Compare that to the dozens of strident columns and stories bashing U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney for urging that New York take a $10 million donation from a Saudi sheik. McKinney opined that America should be more even-handed in dealing with the Middle East (a position, polls show, that holds widespread support). Demagogues, such as U.S. Sen. Zell Miller (D-Kill 'em All), mendaciously sought to twist McKinney's reasonable position into an assertion that America's foreign policy was at fault for the Sept. 11 attacks.

"The difference," says Roberts, the Valdosta reporter, "is that if you're a white and male politician in Georgia, you can get away with the most racist statements. Race and gender mean everything."

What's scary about the Chambliss brouhaha? Only that moronic yahoos such as the congressman and Miller are actually making policy for this country during a time of great crisis.

Here's the second event that shows this nation is really in trouble. A few days after Chambliss' bout with his own mouth, and across that state line he mentioned, federal agents, in their best jackboot style, were doing just what the congressman had urged.

On Nov. 24, a mild, pleasant Muslim academic named Mazen Al-Najjar was collared by the feds while leaving his Tampa apartment. He is now being held in solitary in a high security lockup, unable to talk to his wife and three young daughters. Although never charged with as much as a traffic ticket, his jailing is extremely harsh and punitive. He is in a 23-hour lock down and under 24-hour observation. He is strip searched twice daily. He has no access to the library, TV or newspapers.

Al-Najjar has been a forced guest of the state before. Eleven months ago, he was released after spending 1,307 days in jail, based on the legal abomination called "secret evidence." The Tampa Tribune had stirred a witch hunt in 1995, claiming Al-Najjar and others associated with a university think tank had "ties to terrorists." Those stories were disproved and discredited by other papers, including The Miami Herald, the St. Petersburg Times and by articles by me in CL's sister paper in Tampa, the Weekly Planet.

The only incriminating event was that one man who had once worked with Al-Najjar assumed command of one of the Palestinian terrorist groups months after leaving Tampa. But, among thousands of documents, hundreds of videotapes, megabytes of computer files and scores of interrogations, the feds never produced any evidence that anyone knew a terrorist was in their midst -- or that anyone was doing anything at all illegal. In 1998, Bob Blitzer, the then-head of the FBI's counterterrorism group told me, without reservation, that "no federal laws were broken" by Al-Najjar and his colleagues.

Moreover, Al-Najjar picked up many important supporters who have plenty of access to government intelligence -- Georgia Republican Congressman Bob Barr and House Democratic Whip David Bonoir, among others.

Prior to the Tribune's reports, the feds were blissfully unaware of any terrorists in Tampa (in fact, the only proven act of terrorism related to the Middle East that took place in Tampa was committed by a radical supporter of Israel). But prodded by the newspaper's slanted and alarmist stories, agents spent millions of dollars and thousands of hours trying to nail Al-Najjar and his colleagues.

Despite the total lack of evidence, it took three years before Al-Najjar could get in front of a federal judge in Miami. That judge decreed Al-Najjar's constitutional rights had been violated, and the case was referred to an immigration judge.

Keep in mind that prior to Sept. 11 our government was relentlessly persecuting many innocent Arabs and Muslims residents of the United States; about two dozen were held on secret evidence, often obtained (as in Al-Najjar's case) from personal and political enemies. As many intelligence officials, including Mike Pheneger, the retired Central Command chief spook, have told me, you can't trust such politically motivated "evidence." Yet, that's exactly what our government chooses to do.

Meanwhile, what was happening while the feds were carrying water for, as their own documents concede, "foreign intelligence services"? Why, the real terrorists, Osama bin Laden's boys, went unnoticed as they plotted their mega-murders.

Was Al-Najjar a terrorist? No. That's not just my opinion.

The federal immigration judge, R. Kevin McHugh, ruled unequivocally in October 2000 that the government had absolutely no proof Al-Najjar was a terrorist, supported terrorism or raised money for bad guys. Attorney General Janet Reno then ordered his release.

Why, then, the re-arrest? First, the government was badly humiliated by the release of Al-Najjar -- "evidence" was exposed as bogus, the lead federal agent exhibited extraordinary ignorance of the Middle East, terrorism and Islam. So, under the 9-11 guise of "fighting terrorism," this was payback time for the government. That's truly scary to anyone who loves liberty.

Al-Najjar has been ordered deported for technical visa violations. A press release issued by the Department of Justice claimed he was hauled back in because he "has established ties to terrorist organizations."

But that's exactly what Judge McHugh (no bleeding-heart liberal but an ex-Marine) said the government didn't prove. He affirmed that Al-Najjar and the think tank were respected and respectable.

In other words, in the finest traditions of Joe Stalin, Saddam Hussein and Fidel Castro, even when a man has been proven innocent, the government has exercised its brute power to toss him in jail -- perhaps for life, if Congress capitulates to the demands of Attorney General John Ashcroft.

I have repeatedly called Dan Nelson, the Justice official who made the statement. I have sent him a fax asking why his claims are so contrary to what Judge McHugh ruled. Nelson is dodging me.

But Grand Inquisitor Ashcroft's motivation is clear. Along with drumhead tribunals (described by the British news-paper The Independent as "legally sanctioned American government death squads"), and a wholesale assault on civil liberties, Ashcroft wants to vastly expand the use of secret evidence. No need to say you're sorry when you don't have to prove your case.

Commenting in the New York Times on Al-Najjar's case, Anthony Lewis wrote: "Ashcroft wants to use this case to establish the right to use secret evidence against aliens. ... Ashcroft and President Bush have assured the country that they will enforce the measures with care, and concern for civil liberties. Their motto is, 'Trust us.' The Al-Najjar case shows there is no basis for that trust."

There is big news wrapped into the tales about Chambliss and Al-Najjar. It's disturbing, and I hate to break it, but bin Laden won.

He accomplished his goal, bringing America to its knees. The sad thing is we haven't got the news yet -- thanks to media clones that are more competitive about which one has the snazziest "America Strikes Back" artwork than which is best at telling the truth.

Bin Laden may be holed up in a cave, or cowering in a hideout in Pakistan. He may have been disassembled into 10,000 bits and pieces by a "daisy cutter" bomb. It doesn't matter. He won.

The flag was handed to him by such men as Ashcroft and Georgia's own poor excuses for Big Brother's little helpers, Miller and Chambliss.

They have proclaimed that freedom is, indeed, slavery to terrorists. Thus, these wise men have told us, to be free of terrorism, we must not be slavish about freedom.

Put another way, bin Laden knows that America has one unique strength, its love of liberty and justice. He needs to destroy that to destroy America. In a putsch against civil liberties, the Bush administration is on its way to handing bin Laden his victory.

A thousand columnists are pecking away on keyboards this week, and a thousand clucking heads are unleashed on cable channels -- all imparting their wisdom on how Sept. 11 has changed America, and why 2001 was somehow a turning point. They'll have predictions for 2002, which basically boil down to "duh?"

In most respects, they're wrong. Planes crashing into the World Trade Center won't really change America. We're not going to be more security conscious. The venality of our culture isn't challenged. Nor is the moral bankruptcy of our sold-to-the-highest-paying-lobbyist political system.

The big debate this Christmas is over Playstation 2 vs. the Xbox, not whether a horrific tragedy should revive our belief in Christ's message of peace. No change there.

Did I say "peace"? Sorry, I forgot that anyone who doesn't subscribe to "War Is Peace" must, in Bushthink, be "evil." I'm sure that if Jesus arrived for the second coming, he would be snared in Ashcroft's dragnet of 1,200 or so Middle Eastern men, the "disappeared" who, like Al-Najjar, now rot in America's gulag.

What has changed is that America's New World Order plutocrats are firmly in control. Challenge them, harp about human rights, and you'll be classified as a terrorist.

Those Americans -- not to mention those billions of other people around the world -- who scratch their heads and say, "Uh, wait. I'm definitely not with Osama. But I'm not sure I'm buying into Bush, either," just don't get it, do they? Ignore those dead Afghan babies (CNN certainly is putting on patriotic blinders, while Geraldo is lying through his teeth on Fox) and the war-crimes-class massacres of POWs by our "allies" (aka bandits, drug-runners and ex-Soviet stooges).

If you peek, you'll be aiding the terrorists. Just ask Chambliss or Miller.

And then, Ashcroft's Thought Police will kick in your door. Just ask Al-Najjar.

Senior Editor John Sugg was last seen being whisked away by unfriendly guys in dark suits. Try leaving a message at 404-614-1241 -- but it's safest to call from a pay phone.

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