25 Mar 2007

What Damage to Society?

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Brad Warbiany has been reading liberal journalists and democrats, and (worse!) taking their nonsense seriously.

Brad writes:

Fear has become the name of the political game, and the stakes are high. Unlike World War II, we’re not asked to ration sugar or observe meatless meals. Instead, we’re asked to suspend habeas corpus, willingly submit to National Security Letters and warrantless domestic wiretapping. Of course, we’re asked to provide implicit trust to the government to faithfully protect us, while acting as watchdogs to snitch on our untrustworthy family, friends, and neighbors at the first sign of wrongdoing. We’re watching as crucial controls on government, going back to the Magna Carta in 1215, are being removed…

There was never, ever any occasion from 1215 to the present day, in which prisoners of war had the benefit of habeas corpus. Still less, spies, saboteurs, and other illegal combatants, who did not even enjoy the privileges and immunities associated with the status of prisoner of war, and who were traditionally executed out of hand, by hanging.

What should still be regarded as determinative is the Supreme Court’s decision in Johnson v. Eisentrager, 339 U.S. 763 (1950), which held:

Modern American law has come a long way since the time when outbreak of war made every enemy national an outlaw, subject to both public and private slaughter, cruelty and plunder. But even by the most magnanimous view, our law does not abolish inherent distinctions recognized throughout the civilized world between citizens and aliens, nor between aliens of friendly and of enemy allegiance, nor between resident enemy aliens who have submitted themselves to our laws and non-resident enemy aliens who at all times have remained with, and adhered to, enemy governments. …

But, in extending constitutional protections beyond the citizenry, the Court has been at pains to point out that it was the alien’s presence within its territorial jurisdiction that gave the Judiciary power to act. …

If this [Fifth] Amendment invests enemy aliens in unlawful hostile action against us with immunity from military trial, it puts them in a more protected position than our own soldiers. …

We hold that the Constitution does not confer a right of personal security or an immunity from military trial and punishment upon an alien enemy engaged in the hostile service of a government at war with the United States.

Brad Warbiany continues:

The time comes that I have to ask myself a simple question: Is it worth it?

What level of uncertainty of a terrorist attack should we allow in our lives in order to be certain that we’re not subjects of a police state? It has become a sad state of affairs when I’m more concerned that the actions of my own government will cause me trouble than the actions of extremists who have sworn an intent to kill me. In a world where we’re asked to submit to intrusive surveillance on a daily basis, and further to do so gladly and “for our own protection”, I wonder if it wouldn’t be better to simply take my chances without their blanket of security?

Might there be better ways of reducing terrorism than turning our own country into a prison, while engaging in a foreign policy which causes those who didn’t hate us 5 years ago to start? Nearly 40 years of effort have proven that our tactics in fighting a war on drugs have proven futile and counterproductive, while damaging American society in the process. Should we take a step back and evaluate whether our tactics fighting international terrorism have been futile and counterproductive, while damaging American society in the process?

“Turning our own country into a prison” is just a bit of an exaggeration, is it not?

What intrusive surveillance has the gentleman experienced? I wonder, outside the revolting and irrational practices of airline security, which have gotten worse recently, but which long predate 9/11 and the current administration, going back to the 1960s when Castro’s Cuban regime initiated the practice of airline hijacking.

The government is widely believed to be practicing some forms of mechanical surveillance, data-mining electronic and telephonic communications, in search of messages transmitted between terrorists.

This sort of thing has been going on for a very long time, all the way back to the WWII era, when the predecessor agency of the NSA was opening every telegram.

In 1945 Project SHAMROCK was initiated to obtain copies of all telegraphic information exiting or entering the United States. With the full cooperation of RCA, ITT and Western Union (representing almost all of the telegraphic traffic in the US at the time), the NSA’s predecessor and later the NSA itself were provided with daily microfilm copies of all incoming, outgoing and transiting telegraphs.

Are either Mr. Warbiany or myself really inconvenienced by the NSA’s Echelon program datamining our emails, presumably in search of such obvious giveaway signals as the presence of provocative texts like “Allahu Akhbar!”, “the anthrax is on the way,” or “the nuclear bomb goes off at noon”? Our emails are, in a sense, “read” by machines already simply in the process of being transmitted across the Net.

Do I really even care if some clerical employee pulls my sarcastic “Allahu Akhbar!” email out of the pile, and eyeballs it for a fraction of a second? Not much. In fact, a lot less than I like having to remove my shoes at the airport.

It is somewhat difficult for those of us on the sidelines to evaluate sensibly the necessity and propriety of the secret operations of our intelligences services in time of war. We do know, however, that no successful incident of mass terrorism has taken place on US soil since 9/11, and we have good reason to believe that there are a lot of people trying. So somebody, somewhere, must be doing something right.

As to international opinion, what can one expect? The international leftwing intelligentsia, and its media outlets, have always hated the United States. They hate the United States more vigorously when the United States actually does something in the world, it’s true. But it would be insane to base US foreign policy upon the preferences and desires of our rivals and adversaries, on the one hand; and even worse to base it upon the goofy and pernicious world view of the international community of leftist bien pensants on the other.

2 Feedbacks on "What Damage to Society?"

Brad Warbiany


I appreciate the response. However, I’m not sure that it really assuages my concerns.

First, you talk about the Supreme Court’s ruling on whether POW’s and enemy combatants should be given habeas corpus. I don’t think an enemy picked up on the battlefield in Iraq should be given a trial in American courts. However, what do we do about the ones picked up in this country (including those few who are American citizens)? I’m not saying they should be tried in federal courts, even a military tribunal is better than what the government was offering. The suggestion by the government was “We know they’re an enemy combatant, we’re not going to tell anyone why, and we’re not going to allow them to challenge that determination in any court, civilian or military.” They’ve backed off that a bit with the military tribunals, but it’s clear to point out what they’re trying to do.

Regarding the wider question of surveillance, it’s unclear whether or not it affects you or I. I would assume it does not, but I have no way to know. However, formerly I might have at least been placated by the assurance that there was at least some judicial oversight over what was being done, and that if the government overstepped their bounds, they could be challenged. But with the use of National Security Letters (which undergo no oversight and if you receive one, you cannot disclose that fact to anyone) make it impossible for us to know the extent of the surveillance.

My biggest worry about the surveillance is not that it will be used for terrorism, but that it sets a precedent and will result in a wider infringement of our liberties. The prosecution of the War on Drugs has resulted in an ever-widening expansion of police powers. The use of drugs as a convenient bogeyman has allowed the government to always have an easy foe to blame in order to expand their power. The use of terrorism is even more effective. You can make a claim that drugs are a victimless crime and should be legal; you can’t make that claim about terrorism. Thus we see expanded federal police power under the justification that it will be used in order to fight terrorism in order to begin a program like domestic wiretapping or national security letters, but 10-20 years down the road, they’ll be using those tactics to fight domestic “crimes” like gambling rings.

All this to fight an enemy, “terror”, that can never be vanquished. At least if we were to properly define the enemy, we could at some point claim a victory. But terrorism will likely never go away, and thus this gives our government license for eternity to continue their expansion of control.


As far as I can recall, Jose Padilla is the only case of a US citizen apprehended within the country.

I’m willing to grant that his case raises some legal issues, but the fellow is manifestly guilty of treason and attempted mass murder, so I’m not personally disposed to crusade vigorously on his behalf.

If numbers of such cases existed, and if guilt of very objectionable capital crimes was less clear, they would support Brzezinski’s case.

One really guilty swallow does not make it Spring.



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