Not very slowly but certainly very surely, a consensus is evolving in the United States and perhaps other Western states that civil liberties long enjoyed by citizens should be curtailed for the purpose of fighting terrorism. Some of the proposals put forward have actually been adopted, while others are merely in the discussion stage, but all of them grossly exaggerate the need for “security over liberty” and all of them, regardless of how useful they might be in fighting or preventing terrorism, could also be used against non-violent dissidents. Here’s a little list of what’s being proposed and what has actually been established.
Attorney General John Ashcroft has approved the practice, long held to be in violation of the constitutional guarantee of attorney-client privilege, of eavesdropping on conversations between clients and their lawyers whenever the government itself decides that such listening may be useful for fighting terrorism.
Comprehensive anti-terrorist legislation has now been enacted that widely expands the power of federal law enforcement authorities to wiretap and eavesdrop on “suspects.” If the subjects are really reasonable suspects—persons for whom there is reason to suspect of being involved in terrorism—this kind of authority might not be too frightening.
But in fact, as civil libertarian columnist Nat Hentoff points out, under the new law, “… the government can now follow any suspect’s communications on all kinds of phones as well as pay phones.” He cites law professor Jeffrey Rosen as writing in The New Republic, “If your colleague [unknown to you] is a target of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act investigation, the government could tap all your [own] communications on a shared phone, work computer or a public library terminal.”
In addition to restricting attorney-client privilege, some in the Justice Department have proposed the use of drugs or outright torture against terrorist suspects who won’t talk or say what their interrogators want them to say.
Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz has endorsed the legalization of some forms of torture to deal with terrorist suspects.
The Bush administration has just announced that it will authorize secret military tribunals for accused terrorists, in place of legal public trials by legally established courts of law. The administration cites as precedent similar secret military tribunals that sentenced accused German spies and saboteurs, to death during World War II.
Some in the Justice Department are also pushing for removing restrictions not only on federal undercover investigatory powers but also those on local and state police departments. The Wall Street Journal quotes Mr. Ashcroft’s Number 2 man at Justice, Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, as saying, without local intelligence, “we don’t have enough eyes and ears” and therefore that “restrictions need to be looked at.” Current restrictions often require civilian or court approval before surveillance of religious and political groups.
Historian Jay Winik, writing in the Wall Street Journal earlier this month, offers historic precedents in the administrations of Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, and Franklin Roosevelt for the curtailment of personal liberties in times of “emergencies.” Mr. Winik’s apologia for tyranny may be taken as a kind of theoretical manifesto for the approaching black-out.
The fact is that, as horrible as the attacks of Sept. 11 and the subsequent anthrax attacks were, there is nothing going on in this country that demands the suspension of anyone’s civil liberties or the trashing of the Constitution. There was probably nothing or very little that justified such suspensions in previous “emergencies,” but the Civil War and World Wars I and II were just a little bit more of emergencies than the one we’re supposed to be in now.
And, of course, whatever emergency we might actually be in right now is due almost entirely to the stupid and suicidal policy of mass immigration that the federal government has permitted for decades. It’s true that most of the restrictions adopted or proposed are directed against foreign terrorists, but they could easily be re-directed toward Americans who express unpopular views. There is no good reason whatsoever for any American to have to carry an ID card, lose his right to privacy with a lawyer, fear torture or secret trial for capital crimes, or have to worry about who’s wiretapping him.
There is, however, every good reason to throw out of the country every immigrant not yet a citizen, take a hard look at some who have acquired citizenship and to close the borders through an immediate and permanent moratorium on immigration. American citizens should not have to pay for foreign terrorism by losing their own freedom; let the Constitution remain intact and the foreigners who invited themselves to come here go home.