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[casi] Iraq and the Fourth Amendment

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The Bush administration last week found itself standing before an open door, unwilling to step 
inside because crossing that threshold could prove baseless its claims that Iraq is a mortal threat 
to the world. Saddam Hussein opened that door when he notified the United Nations that inspectors 
might return to Iraq and resume the search for weapons of mass destruction supposedly interrupted 
in 1998 by and American missile attack on Baghdad.

"Supposedly" is the appropriate word because the UNSCOM inspectors under Richard Butler had, by 
1998, become an intelligence arm of the United States, a fact neither disputed nor acknowledged by 
the promoters of a terminal war on Iraq. What was, in fact, interrupted was an 
intelligence-gathering operation conducted by the toady Butler at the direction of his handlers in 

Colin Powell, his brief rebellion at an end and fully on board with the War Party, bellows that the 
issue is not inspections, but disarmament, as if there could be disarmament without inspections. He 
and the WP are on the same page. On the proper page but not quite in tune is Britain's Tony Blair 
who has incensed Washington by saying that regime change is beyond the U.N.'s authority despite 
Saddam Hussein's being "loathsome." The issue for Blair is inspections anytime, anyplace, any 
pretext. In this, Blair is no better than the SWAT team thugs who kick in American doors without 
warning, often blazing away at everything that moves and chaining anything left alive, all too 
frequently having come to the wrong address.

Those who know the history of UNSCOM understand that Iraq, having opened the door to resumed 
inspections, asks no more than an American citizen asks when the police propose to search his home. 
That expectation is embodied in the fourth amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The text reads:

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.

In recent years, certainly since the serial wars on drugs began, the Fourth Amendment has been 
shredded by ambitious and mendacious officials and indifferent judges, but its meaning is intact 
and is as applicable to a sovereign nation as it is to a citizen, sovereign in his home. In 
American law a valid search warrant must be issued by a neutral judge, which is to say a party 
whose detachment guarantees that probable cause exists. Inasmuch as nations and international 
institutions have to some extent bought the majority point of view, no neutral judge is available. 
The judge is the highly conflicted United Nations Secretary-General. The terms of his employment 
prevent his saying what he undoubtedly knows to be true: that Iraq, weakened by the devastation of 
1991 and 11 years of impoverishing sanctions, has not had the means to create the doomsday machines 
that over-excited editors say must be there somewhere.

No matter: let the fears of the majority rule, and let us concede a probable cause for searching 
Iraq. A majority of the American people, incurious and tending to gullibility, believe that Iraq 
does possess the dreaded ABC: atomic, biological, and chemical weapons. Their president and their 
anchormen say it's so. A great many politicians and molders of public opinion, which is to say men 
and women of flexible principle, say they also believe it. A doubting few ask vainly for evidence 
of weapons, deliverability, and intent to use.

What remains after probable cause is conceded are the final fifteen words of the amendment. In the 
American tradition they are the citizen's safeguard against the general, open-ended searches often 
called fishing expeditions. For example, a policeman decides that Jones' house should be searched. 
He knows not what he expects to find, if anything, but he does know that whatever he finds may be 
useful either in putting Jones into prison, or in so terrifying Jones's neighbors that they will 
comport themselves according to the preferences of the inquisitive policeman. And if nothing is 
found, the policeman may say that this proves the skill of Jones in hiding the mcguffin. Or, as 
some magistrates have discovered to their horror, policeman sometimes enhance the search scene on 
the theory that Jones, a demonstrably evil person, must be put away at any cost.

American law does not permit this kind of general ransacking, although it does happen in some 
jurisdictions. It should not happen in Iraq because to allow a general, non-specific, open-ended 
rummaging through every structure, every house, and every enclosed space in Iraq violates 
sovereignty and privacy. But - more important in this twelfth year of brutal and murderous 
sanctions -  an endless search for evidence, the likelihood of whose existence diminishes daily, 
guarantees the pointless deaths of more of that country's most vulnerable inhabitants.

The importance of the principle that a citizen of a republic is sovereign in his home cannot be 
overstated. The importance of the principle that nations large and small are sovereign cannot be 
overstated. Abandon this principle in the former instance and you lose the republic. Abandon it in 
the latter instance and you admit that 350 years of evolution of international law has been for 
nothing; the strong will rule and the weak will tremble. And the rules that serve us all, including 
those that may be empires today and has-beens tomorrow, will have no force.

Let there be inspectors, but let them be disinterested, competent seekers after the truth, not 
spies. Let the inspectors say at the start what they are looking for and where they expect to find 
it. Let the inspections be thorough so that at the end the inspectors can say: We looked and we 
found nothing, or, alternatively, what we found was of little consequence And when all is said and 
done, let the sanctions end so that the babies born in Iraq have a chance to live long lives in 
something like safety and prosperity. That is what we hope for our babies. Why should we begrudge a 
people six thousand miles from our shores as much?

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