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We must have sunset provisions

Reader comment on item: The Enemy Within [and the Need for Profiling]

Submitted by John Hadjisky (United States), Jan 24, 2003 at 18:27

The so-called "civil libertarians", in their misguided attempt to expand the meaning of "rights" to mean that no-one should pass judgment on anyone else, for any reason, have lost what claim they might have once had to be the defenders of true civil liberties.

Unfortunately, when Dr. Pipes writes "If Americans want to protect themselves from Islamist terrorism, they must temporarily give higher priority to security concerns than to civil-libertarian sensitivities," I fear Dr. Pipes may be neglecting several important things about civil liberties:

In opposing Islamic terrorism, we've already given up far more than "civil-libertarian sensitivities", we've significantly weakened actual core civil liberties, such as the right of habeas corpus for U.S. citizens arrested in the U.S.

The "war on terror", or more accurately, the war on Islamofacism, will not be temporary in the sense that conventional war is temporary, nor will it have a clear end-point, such as the end of hostilities in a conventional war, after which the "temporary" measures can be repealed. How many years must pass without a major incident before we are "safe"? Any moral person knows we are never safe from evil; you are fooling yourself if you think that any freedom you give up to fight the current evil is only a temporary thing.

Core civil liberties, correctly understood, are a precondition (or co-condition) of true safety and security; they are not a luxury to which we can only aspire after we are safe and secure. Come on, people: Civil liberties, and economic freedom, are a source of strength; it is only our enemies that see them as a weakness!

Sunset Provisions
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Democracy and the rule of law is the best system yet conceived, but it still makes plenty of mistakes. We have freedoms that we gave up "temporarily" in WW II and during the Cold War that still have not been restored. Can we at least insist that those measures we take in support of the current conflict, that weaken core civil liberties, have a built-in sunset provision? Isn't it reasonable to insist that the unusual steps we take today be formally re-authorized every year or so to ensure they are still necessary?

Vindication
----------------

There are also important issues of fairness here. We certainly shouldn't pretend to ignore religion when it is so obviously a factor in determining who ought to be investigated. But just as there is already a terrorist watch list, why can't there also be a list of Muslims who have been cleared from the list? We could call it a "vindication list". I'll admit that this idea has the potential to backfire, think of the journalist asking "so, when did you stop beating your wife?". My point is, there must be more steps we can take to make the investigation process more fair, without it degenerating into a mindless exercise in "civil-libertarian sensitivity". Even the Ashcroft Justice Department recognizes this fairness issue: in the provisions for detaining illegal combatants there is a system of administrative checks and balances that at least attempts to catch and correct the inevitable mistakes. Yet there has been too little discussion of the vital importance of such fairness measures on this forum, or in Dr. Pipes writing.

Our principles require that while opposing Islamofacism we simultaneously lay the groundwork for reclaiming our civil liberties. Its a challenge, but remember: if justice consists of safety first and freedom second, then none of us will ever be free. I hope we can look forward to occasionally hearing phrases such as "sunset provision" or "checks and balances" in more of the posts to this forum, and in more of Dr. Pipes future writings.
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