The great American author, Tom Clancy, noted in the epilogue to The Sum Of All Fears that it was not probable that any free democracy could prevent a terrorist event using weapons of mass destruction. Since 9/11, most of the nation’s best analysts, through interviews on television or in print, have repeatedly stated that another major attack is a near inevitability. This friends, leads us to the nature of terrorism; the ability of a small force able to bend a larger force to its will through intimidation. But the United States hasn’t changed in response to the events of 9/11, have we?
Clancy made it a point to reference the free democracy in his note. Liberty, after all, does not blend well with a police state. For decades the Red Chinese, and the Soviets, Nazis, and Czarists before them, controlled the ethnic and religious divisions that existed in their nations. It is not coincidental that bloodshed began anew in the Balkans when Yugoslavia was dissolved; the tensions of Serb and Croat had been sublimated to the will of world socialism. Iraq as well, showed the results of tyranny on the profession of terror; Hussein allowed no jihad in his country, and was utterly without limits in his ability to enforce his will. It took a foreign power to uncork the terrorist potential in that nation.
The United States has always worked to be different. Our system of justice is largely predicated on the notion that it is better ten guilty go free, than one innocent be convicted. The 4th and 5th Amendments are the elements in our Constitution that enshrine the safeguards of liberty; prohibitions of unreasonable search and seizure, the necessity of evidence or testimony giving probable cause for the issuance of a warrant, and the guarantee of due process under the law. We have, in our fear since 9/11, willingly submitted to a steady attack on our liberties. We take solace in the notion that these new methods “only apply to the terrorists”; as if they come with labels.
I speak of schizophrenia in the title because we Americans have been of two minds with regard to civil liberties in the presence of terror. Two issues have jumped again to the forefront of our national discussion; the rights of the accused, and the security of deadly instruments. Some of the split in our personality can, of course, be directly linked to politics and the shameful deceit of elected officials and those in the media. There exists a steady drumbeat, coming from the general direction of Dick Cheney, that pounds out a simple message; “What I did was legal, what I did was proper, and even if it wasn’t, it was necessary because look….it kept us safe.”
An entire national discussion has been hijacked by one politician trying to cover his ass. Cheney’s apologists in the media (and I do mean Cheney, because I believe more every day that it was he and not Mr. Bush who was responsible), daily turn themselves inside-out trying to make his party-line true. Charles Krauthammer, once a respected journalist, became the latest to go on TV and propagate the lie that the previous administration kept America free from terrorism after 9/11. Friends, this is very simple; if Ft. Hood, Times Square, and Captain Underwear were terrorist attacks, then so were the El Al counter attacks, the Anthrax attacks, the DC Sniper attacks, the North Carolina SUV attacks, Captain Shoebomber, and the Seattle Jewish Federation attacks.
It is important to note the earlier attacks for two reasons. First, they represent only those acts of terrorism driven by Islamic fanaticism (there were other terrorist acts), and the frequency of that brand of terror has not diminished. Second, the events were all investigated and brought to an end point by traditional American justice. Nobody was waterboarded, and everyone arrested (that is, all of the folks arrested by the Bush Administration) was read rights, tried, and convicted. Richard Reid, a foreign national, tried to blow up a trans-Atlantic flight bound for the United States by detonating explosive shoes. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a foreign national, tried to blow up a trans-Atlantic flight bound for the United States by detonating explosive underpants. The FBI under President Bush mirandized Reid, and he was successfully prosecuted…why is Abdulmutallab any different?
Why is it so important to begin watering down our rights? Why is it that when we talk about liberties in other contexts, the concept of the slippery slope is so important, but when the conversation turns to habeous corpus or due process it is just national security? Last year more than 1,000 “members” of the national terrorist watch list shared an interesting fact in common; they were approved when their names came up for a background check connected with the purchase of firearms and/or explosives. Mostly firearms actually. Only 3 people on the national terrorist watch list were able to buy explosives last year. Only 3 people on the national terrorist watch list were able to buy explosives last year. Only 3 people on the national terrorist watch list were able to buy explosives last year. Don’t you feel safer already? Why oh why, is Fox News not having a group cerebral hemorrhage over this tidbit? Heck, why isn’t every news agency reporting this?
These folks can’t be prevented from buying guns or explosives because that would deny them there 2nd Amendment rights, according to the NRA. Now let’s be clear on something friends, I believe that the 2nd Amendment guarantees an individual right to gun ownership. Heck, if you want to own a twin .50 caliber mount for your back yard, great. Of course I believe guns ought to be a little like cars in that they should be registered and you should need to prove your ability to keep it off the sidewalk…so to speak. Of course, I also don’t think it is ok to yell fire in a crowded theatre. But I digress; the element to focus on here, is the inconsistency.
If we have decided that it is in the prevailing national interest to suspend due process seizure rules for individuals that someone somewhere decides pose a terrorist threat, then why can’t we also suspend their 2nd Amendment rights to buy guns and explosives? Both sides of this slope are equally slippery. Personally, I would move to reinstate the idea that America is the land of the free. Friends, it IS the land of the free…but only so long as it remains the home of the brave. We could give up all of our rights and still watch helplessly as some self-absorbed idiot detonates an IED in a crowded place. We could put our reliance on our ability to apply limited rights to only one segment of the population, and watch homegrown losers like Timothy McVeigh almost get away while we look for the Muslims.
Or, we could bravely live as we did before 9/11, albeit more vigilant. We can cherish our liberties in the happy understanding that the folks in China might be more protected from terror, but at a cost we refuse to pay. We can be consistent in the application of civil liberties and our expectations of safety. Maybe I am just stubborn, but I am not willing to let that cave-dwelling idiot take away any more of this country by proxy.
The Rational Middle is listening…