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Terror vs. civil rights

Cliff Thompson
President of the ACLU Nadine Strossen, front, responds to a question involving terrorism and civil rights Saturday at the Vilar Center during a Vail Valley Institue open forum. The discuussion was Terrorism & Civil Rights: Can We Find The Right Balance. Behind Strossen, from front to back is: Heather Mac Donald, John M. Olin Fellow, Manhattan Institute and Contributing Editor, City Journal; Ruth Wedgwood, Professor of International Law & Diplomacy, Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, John Hopkins University; Peter Swire Professor of Law, Moritz College, Ohio State University and former Clinton Administration Chief Counsel for Privacy; Forum Moderator Richard D. Lamm, Professor, and Director of the Center for Public Policy and Contemporary Issues, University of Denver and former Gevernor of Colorado.
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America’s post 9/11 vigilance against terror has brought unprecedented challenges to the very fabric that holds our free society together.Balancing the need for security against civil liberties was the topic of a discussion Saturday at the Vilar Center in Beaver Creek for a high-powered, bipartisan panel sponsored by the Vail Valley Institute, moderated by former Colorado Gov. Dick Lamm.The heart of the discussion was an individual’s right versus a nation’s security, hih in some ways homogenizes attitudes of groups as diverse as the NRA and gun-control advocates.”When you make decisions based on a people’s attributes, you better have a good reason,” said Nadine Strossen, president of the ACLU. “In periods of fear we tent to overreact.””I don’t know how you fight terrorism in public,” countered Heather MacDonald, contributing editor to City Journal. “Terrorists don’t wear uniforms. (But) it would be terrible for the terrorists to extinguish the very freedom we enjoy.”MacDonald, a fellow with the Manhattan Institute, was joined by: Nadine Strossen, president of the American Civil Liberties Union; Peter Swire, former Clinton administration counselor for privacy and now professor of law at Ohio State University and Ruth Wedgewood, professor of international law at Johns Hopkins University.Strossen compared the roundup of Muslims in this country in the wake of 911 to the landmark New Jersey racial profiling case.”If you look at the programs the Justice Department has implemented where they rounded up 5,000 Muslim individuals, by all accounts it has not been effective,” Strossen said. “It’s like the crime of driving while black.”Swire questioned if we’re considering all the impacts before acting.”I don’t know who’s doing the thinking about terrorism,” he said. “We need to think through this “Twilight Zone’ of Constitutional issues.”MacDonald countered we’re in danger of racheting up our definition of civil liberties too high, is to the point of where it could impact our national security, with a “blow-back” effect.But civil liberties can’t be painted with a broad brush stroke, said Wedgwood.”It all depends on the felt intrusion in a person’s life,” she said. “It’s a dangerous road to go down if you just pull people off the street.”Lamm asked the panelists about the impacts of the Patriot Act, enacted shortly after 9-11 and designed to give greater powers to the agencies enforcing national security. It passed the Senate 99-1 eight days after the attack.”It was almost impossible not to vote “yes” on it’ said Swire. “A little self-restraint was needed.”MacDonald defended the law, posing the rhetorical question: ” Name one civil right it has removed from you.”She said the Patriot Act leveled the playing field for the government.”It put us on an equal footing to use the same technology that they (terrorists) used so successfully against us,” she said.Strossen disagreed and quoted Alaska Senator Don Young, a senior Republican, who said, “(The Patriot Act was) stupid; emotionally the worst piece of legislation we’ve ever passed.”But Wedgwood said at the time uncertainty ruled.”The reason many didn’t vote against it was that nobody knew what it would take to disrupt Al Qaeda,” she said. “Our greatest fear was that they had a tactical nuke.”Lamm posed another question: “Is it a war on terrorism or something else?””War has an end,” said Strossen. “It’s misleading (to call it war) because no such war can be declared on the war on terrorism. We are going to permanently alter our way of life.”MacDonald disagreed.”911 was a classic decapitation strike,” said MacDonald. “It was designed to take out our financial and political leadership. The definition of war is not defined by whether it has an end. What we saw was massive destruction. It was not a crime anymore.”Swire said the new conflict requires us to come up with new rules of engagement.”We have to come up win indisputable evidence as to when it’s ok to begin dropping bombs,” he said. “We have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt before we pre-empt. In peace you react to an act. In war you destroy an enemy’s capabilities.”Wedgwood said she felt it is a war, but not in the traditional sense.”NATO thought it was a war,” she said. “It’s a war, but we’re not entering other countries.”Did the war on Iraq divert the focus on the war on terrorism?MacDonald felt it did divert attention and resources needed to fight terror.”The only way to disrupt al Quaeda is through intelligence. We need to infiltrate their organizations and breed fear and uncertainty.”Swire suggested the way to cure terrorism is to deprive terrorists of their rallying points, one of which is the issues between Palestinians and Jews in the Middle East.Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555 ext 450 or cthompson@vaildaily.com


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