Monday, January 23, 2006

Civil Rights vs. National Security

Let’s say you are the President of the United States and you have just learned that U.S. Intelligence agencies overseas have found the phone number of Osama Bin Laden's satellite phone. Osama makes a satellite phone call to a U.S. citizen living in a large metropolitan area like Chicago or New York. At the time of the call nobody is home. Intelligence operatives are certain that Bin Laden will try to place this call again, but it will probably be from a different phone. They are aware that Osama changes phones frequently to avoid being tracked down. So there is little time to waste. Their best chance to intercept Bin Laden's next phone call is to place a wire tap on the U.S. citizen's phone. The next phone call may be in a matter of minutes, or hours. There is no time to go before a court to get a wiretap order. So ... what do you do? Do you put the wiretap in place immediately, or do you take the chance of missing the next phone call from Osama while trying to get a court order?

Now, before you answer, imagine that this might have been a phone call from Bin Laden to Mohammed Atta an hour before Atta was to board that American Airlines flight in Boston. The call was Bin Ladin giving Atta the final go-ahead for the attacks of 9/11. Without a court order you intercept the call, discover the plot, and save 3000 lives. Wait for a court order and the 9/11 attacks go forward.

OK there's the scenario. Now remember, you're the President of the United States. You've taken an oath to protect the people and defend the Constitution of the United States and to uphold its laws. Obviously this character has some kind of ties to Osama bin Laden. Something may be in the works: another terrorist attack may be just hours away. Do you spend those hours trying to get a warrant? Or do you spend those hours trying to prevent the impending terrorist attack?

Now, with Bush there is, of course, no way he can win on this. If he orders the wiretaps he will be assailed by the left for violating the law and ignoring our civil rights, even though this person has clear ties to terrorism. If it is later discovered that he was aware of someone in this country with direct ties to terrorism but didn't take immediate action to monitor their activities, he will be accused of ignoring clear threats to our country.

Aren’t you glad you don’t have to make this decision? I know I am.

The most recent Osama Bin Lade tape, Osama threatens the United States with another attack that he says we will see in our homeland very soon. This tape serves as a clear reminder to just how real the above scenario could become and why we must have such protective measures in this time of war such as the Patriot Act and NSA wiretap surveillance. But some members of congress have called for the removal of the Patriot Act and the NSA wiretaps in the name of civil rights. Some have gone as far as to call for the impeachment of the President for using the wiretaps.

There has been a major attempt from the Democrat Party along with the main stream media to turn the central theme into civil rights for the upcoming mid term elections.

It started in December when Democrats objected to renewal of certain provisions in the Patriot Act. The timing of those objections was synchronized with the New York Times story of the NSA surveillance wire taps that the times had known about for quite awhile but never reported it until the time was right.

It's easy to say that you oppose the Patriot Act or that you oppose the NSA wiretap program because it invades peoples civil rights or privacy rights or this and that...but how many people have actually read the Patriot Act? How many people are aware of what these measures have prevented from happening? And what will happen if Islamic terrorists attack America again? Will there be a commission to investigate whether or not some liberals in Congress took out some provision in the original Patriot Act that might have stopped the attack?

The Patriot Act has stopped similar attacks from happening here. A terrorist cell’s plan in New York to set bombs on the Brooklyn bridge was uncovered. What about the terrorist training camp uncovered in California. This is just a small list but may not have been discovered until it was too late without the Patriot Act. Just as recently as last month Italian authorities arrested three Algerians who were members of Al Qaeda that had plotted attacks on railway stations and stadiums in the US. They were caught because of wire taps that Italian authorities had placed on the suspects phones.

Now, I fully understand the argument that if the Patriot Act is abused it could put some freedoms, liberties, and civil rights into jeopardy. However what good will your civil rights be when your body is laying at room temperature because we were unable to gather information on the next terrorist attack. The measures in the Patriot Act and the use of the NSA wiretap program have been proven to prevent attacks from happening.

In times of war and national crisis, it is common and, indeed, necessary that the pendulum between individual liberty and national security swings toward national security. However, to what extent, both morally and legally, is it acceptable to infringe upon the rights of the individual in order to attain this security? We are left faced with two competing risks: individual autonomy at the cost of civil security and stability on the one hand, and totalitarianism of the state against the individual on the other hand. There must remain a balance between the two in this juncture of history.

In 1759, Benjamin Franklin noted, "They that can give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." His words have been widely cited in connection with arguments against Patriot Act provisions and surveillance programs.

Clearly, there is no evidence that anyone's "essential liberty" has been willfully violated by these national-security provisions or programs. Notably, however, Franklin's remark came almost 150 years before Albert Einstein's observation that e = mc squared. That simple formula brought us the A bomb that ended WWII and changed the world forever.

The world was a much different place when Ben Franklin was with us. Our country had the security from attacks on our home land by our fortunate geographic location. Thousands of miles of ocean on each side protected us from attack or invasion up until the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Even then it was nearly impossible for a long range bomber to reach us and there was no such thing as long range missiles. Much has changed since then. Today a missile from the other side of the globe could reach Chicago or St. Louis in an hour and a half. Add a chemical or biological warhead on it the results would be devastating. An unlikely scenario but it is possible. A more realistic scenario a nuke suitcase bomb smuggled across the border with the help of organized international gangs or crime.

The world is a dangerous place in its present situation. Iran is closed to having nuclear weapons. Osama has just threatened to attack again. The war on terror continues on and as usual the left remains in denial worried about civil rights instead of national security.

Do you know how worried FDR and Truman were about civil rights and privacy rights during WWII? So worried that they actually placed Japanese Americans in concentration camps and had mail, that was coming from the troops fighting over seas, opened, read, and censored before it was sent on to loved ones. Could you imagine the Bush Administration trying to pull that off today? Rounding up Muslims and censoring mail coming from Iraq in the name of national security. It would never ever be able to happen today.

Now, I am not suggesting that we do the same today. Advancements in technology has allowed us not to take such drastic measures. All that I am saying is there was a difference in priorities between then and now. We understood that we were in a fight for our very existence I often wonder if we realize it today.

We understood that if we lost the war back then there would be no civil rights for any body. The same holds true today.

No comments: