Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Making It Up As They Go Along

Imagine, if you will, the following scenario: You are a 49-year-old woman at the airport all ready to go on a trip. You are carrying in your luggage almost $40,000 in cash (maybe not the wisest thing to be doing, but presumably not illegal). As you are going through security, a drug dog scratches at your bag. Your luggage is subsequently searched by federal agents, and you are strip searched. They find your money but no drugs. Still, your money is confiscated by the authorities. Even though you are not charged with a crime and you have documentation showing how you legally came by the money, it is not returned. Since this was your life savings, you are left destitute with no way to pursue the lengthy, expensive process necessary to get your money returned.

Sounds like one of those horror stories of blatant human rights violations that you always hear about happening in some third-world country. Sadly, it is not. It is a true story and it happened right here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. And it’s far from an isolated incident—a quick Google search will yield a surprising number of similar stories. Once again, my mind is boggled. Could it be that my mind has an extremely low boggle-threshold? Possibly. But I’ve always thought of my mind as fairly boggle-resistant.

Before discussing the insanity of this situation, let me just remind you of a few rights guaranteed to U.S. citizens by our Bill of Rights:
  • 4th Amendment: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
  • 5th Amendment: No person shall be … deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
  • 8th Amendment: Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

So how is it that federal agents are able to routinely ignore the protections guaranteed by the 4th, 5th, and 8th amendments? And how is it that the Supreme Court has consistently (about 90 percent of the time) upheld such violations? There are answers, but I don’t think you’re going to like them any more than I do.

You see, the war on drugs is a “special case.” Because the drug problem is so severe and so potentially destructive to our society, certain liberties can be taken with our… well… liberties. The war on drugs is serious business (it’s a war) and therefore demands that some serious sacrifices be made. What might normally be considered an “unreasonable” search and seizure no longer seems so unreasonable when drugs are involved. And no punishment can be too excessive or cruel. Federal agents can’t be bothered with something as trivial as the Constitution when they’re after drugs or the people who use them. The ultimate goal, a drug-free America, is worth it. So what if some innocent lives are ruined along the way? We all have to make some sacrifices if we’re going to win this war. And such a noble end result certainly justifies any means necessary.

And before you ask, no, this isn’t a product of my sometimes-overactive imagination. It really does look a lot like they are making it up as they go along. At least to me. Change the rules or simply ignore them, whatever it takes. It looks like exactly what it is.

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