edited by Danny Goldberg, Victor Goldberg and Robert Greenwald
It's a Free Country is a collection of essays and personal stories from a wide range of people including reporters, members of congress, professors, and artists on the subject of personal freedom in the U.S. post 9/11. The release of it couldn't be better timed. The INS is currently registering over 7,000 men of Middle Eastern descent, while the lawyer for Jose Padilla, the alleged "dirty bomber" and U.S. citizen who has been held since June without being charged with any crime, is in court to win the right to simply meet with her client.
Included in the book are numerous personal stories from those who have been targeted or detained. Most stories are frightening, and unbelievable, like that of the Mustafas, a Palestinian American father-son team who were detained in Houston shortly after September 11th. Both U.S. citizens, the elder was held for 11 days before being put on house arrest, while his son was held for 67 days. Their case was eventually dismissed because of a lack of evidence.
That these are stories largely ignored by much of the media is central to many of the essays in the book. Danny Schechter of mediachannel.org discusses the dangers of a unified news source in his essay, "How the Media Threatens Civil Liberties." He says, "A hypercompetitive and fast consolidating media system has time and time again its bottom-line free market concerns ahead of its responsibility to protect and vitalize the marketplace of ideas."
Country strikes a good balance between the more academic essays, personal stories from those directly affected, and reflections or comments by congressional members and artists. Of the artists, who include Ani DiFranco, Matt Groening, and David Rees, Steve Earle's piece The Politics of Retribution is the most pointed.
Whether you agree with the Bush administration or not, the current climate in the United States is troubling because there is little to no public discourse over the ramifications. As with the case of Padilla, Habeas Corpus has been suspended, and no one is really sure why. We need to talk about what that means. To that end, this is an important book. M. WILLIAM HELFRICH