Most Americans don’t know and probably don’t want to hear about it, but the fact is that somewhere between the box cutters of Sept. 11 and the anthrax-in-the-envelopes of the last several weeks, civil liberties are slowly beginning to vanish.
Columnist Nat Hentoff, a lifelong civil libertarian, may exaggerate when he writes, as he does in a recent column, that the “new antiterrorism law, signed by the president, is the worst attack on the Bill of Rights since World War I,” but what’s even more worrisome is that virtually no one except Mr. Hentoff seems to give a hoot.
Not only are most opinion makers silent about or actually supportive of the contraction of freedom but some whom you’d expect to be moaning about it are demanding that the government go further. I recently noted a column in the Wall Street Journal by historian Jay Winik, who chirped happily over the trampling of civil liberties during various “emergencies” in the American past and gloated over the prospect of yet further trampling in the near future. Mr. Winik, however, is not alone.
The Washington Post reported last month [“Silence of 4 Terror Probe Suspects Poses Dilemma”, Oct. 21, 2001] that the FBI and Justice Department are getting pretty fed up with the silence of several terrorist suspects they’ve been holding for some weeks. The louts just aren’t squealing on their comrades, despite all the toys and candy canes the FBI has dangled—”lighter sentences, money, jobs, and a new identity and life in the United States for them and their family members.” Amazingly, some people really don’t want to be Americans.
And so, reports the Post, some in the federal law enforcement leviathan “are beginning to say that traditional civil liberties may have to be cast aside if they are to extract information about the Sept. 11 attacks and terrorist plans.” The article quotes one FBI agent as saying “But it could get to that spot where we could go to pressure … where we won’t have a choice, and we are probably getting there.” In other words, if you don’t say what we want you to say, we have ways to make you talk.
The Post is pretty specific about what those ways might be. “Among the alternative strategies under discussion are using drugs or pressure tactics, such as those employed occasionally by Israeli interrogators, to extract information. Another idea is extraditing the suspects to allied countries where security services sometimes employ threats to family members or resort to torture.” Indeed. If Americans don’t have the stomach for tyranny, we have plenty of allies who do. But it’s really not the FBI we need to worry about. It’s Harvard professors.
Last week in St. Louis who should pop up to propose the outright legalization of torture but Harvard law professor and veteran left-winger Alan Dershowitz. Speaking at a book fair at the Jewish Community Center on his new book about the Supreme Court’s ruling on last year’s presidential election, Mr. Dershowitz managed to sound less like Louis Brandeis than Heinrich Himmler.
As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported on Nov. 5, “Even torture may not be off the table as an information-gathering tool, Dershowitz said. But there must be a national debate about the circumstances in which torture is permissible and who should have the power to decide when to use it.” We wouldn’t want to just leap to extremes without thinking it through, would we?
Mr. Dershowitz as lawyer, teacher, and author has made a long and profitable career out of defending the indefensible, inventing “rights” that no one ever suspected existed, denouncing hate groups,crusading against oppression, repression and suppression and supporting just about every species of Do-Good known to the mind of Bolshevism. Now at last we discover just how “liberal” this fraud really is.
It would be fascinating to learn who exactly Mr. Dershowitz has in mind as his first candidate for the torture chamber and how he’d like to manage it. We can look forward to the “national debate” as to whether we should merely rely on cattle prods and rubber truncheons or go so far as to set up a rack and iron maiden in the basement of every police station.
“Necessity, the tyrant’s plea,” wrote poet John Milton. Every tyrant begins his career by claiming that infringements of liberty are “necessary” for something or other—survival, prosperity, security, even freedom itself. Then, the people who let the tyrant get away with it are always amazed when they find themselves the next guests in his torture chamber.
Having let phonies like Alan Dershowitz wreck the Constitution in the courts, why should we be surprised when they preach getting rid of it altogether, and why should we expect Americans who have already forgotten what constitutional government means to care whether he and his allies succeed?