Perhaps it’s time to ask for your civil rights back. Many intelligent, well-meaning people argued that the Patriot Act was a necessary bargain; we gave away crucial freedoms, so that the government could ensure our safety. The premise here was that the government was competent to ensure our safety.
We now know, in the wake of Katrina, that this administration can’t hope to keep their side of the bargain — that they don’t know the first thing about keeping the populace secure. Are we still willing to offer up our liberties?
Now you’re welcome to argue that the same department that messed up so badly in New Orleans is more efficient when it comes to infinitely more difficult matters: anticipating and preventing terrorist attacks. I look forward to hearing that argument.
Meanwhile — as you’re preparing that argument — let’s explore reality.
Recognizing that these aren’t the most talented people, we might still insist that the Department of Homeland Security needs expanded powers to accomplish anything whatsoever. But considering what we’ve learned about this group in the last few days, can we even have faith in their calculus? How can we trust that they’ve made the right decision — that they’re capable of making the right decision — regarding which essential freedoms to restrict?
Better safe than sorry, I suppose… except that we’re manifestly anything but safe. So perhaps it’s time to be sorry. Sorry that we tossed aside the very foundation of our judicial system — habeas corpus — in order to give arbitrary powers to incompetent guardian angels. Sorry that we’ve locked up God knows how many innocent “enemies,” on the grounds that Mother Knows Best.
I allow that some of these detainees may or may not pose a great threat to the nation. The point is that we do not know. We are trusting that the people who are detaining them know — which is to say, the good people who know all about homeland security, and hurricanes.
Believe me, I’m not arguing that we should just open the prison gates, apologize, and wave goodbye. I’m simply suggesting that perhaps it’s time that we allowed these people lawyers, that we allowed them to know what they’ve been charged with, and that we tried them properly.
We should not put anybody’s fate in the hands of these all-knowing supra-legal inquisitors. They have been horribly wrong before, not simply regarding hurricanes, but terrorists: very recently — under similar “laws” — an innocent Afghani taxi driver was detained and tortured to death in an American-run prison.
Perhaps self-preservation is still what’s foremost in your mind — you’re willing to sacrifice the occasional innocent foreigner for the sake of national security (I’m not). Then let me remind you: if deemed an “enemy combatant” by one of these discerning arbiters, an American citizen can rot away for years in an American prison with no recourse to any form of due process. Even if you think that’s an acceptable way to treat foreign nationals, it might give you pause to consider that — given the competence of this administration — it’s only by the grace of God that one of those prisoners isn’t an innocent friend of yours, or a member of your family. Or you.
This is not an abstraction. It’s important to get a concrete mental picture of this. Somebody in this administration gets to make arbitrary decisions regarding the indefinite detention of American citizens. Try this little thought experiment: what if that somebody were Michael Brown, the director of FEMA? Or Michael Chertoff, his equally sagacious boss? Have that picture in mind? Good. Then consider this: it’s almost certainly a person much, much lower on the security totem pole. Which is to say, even less qualified.
While it does not favor the administration, this is hardly a partisan argument. If you are truly suspicious of swollen government powers and an intrusive judiciary — in short, if you are any sort of principled conservative — then this is your fight.
We erred on the side of safety: a commodity this government has proven itself incapable of purveying. Perhaps it’s time to err on the side of liberty.