Wednesday, June 23, 2004

It's a curious position this United States finds itself in these days. The great beacon of Democracy, the "city on a hill" for a country governed by laws and not men, finds itself run by a collection of men and women who believe that the law is simply an obstacle to be overcome in order to achieve their ends.

The creation of the Imperial Presidency is perhaps a greater threat to the future stability of this nation than the one posed by militant fundamentalists. Some may argue that it is the continued threat of terrorism in this country, and the attack on the World Trade Center that has pushed us into this position, that it is the terrorists fault. They want to assert that it is the "evildoers" that have caused the erosion of our civil liberties and threaten our constitution. While the attacks on September 11th certainly have spurred a great deal of rethinking in law enforcement and legal circles about the expansion of government intrusiveness, it also occurred on the watch of a group which is ideologically in favor of an imperial executive and tough national security. These same groups see no contradiction when it comes to their previously stated desire to shrink the government, if not kill it completely (impossible though it may be). It is the ultimate flip-flop.

The legislation proposed in the name of "national security" (Patriot Act, expansion of domestic surveillance, etc) have all expanded the government, and in particular the executive, to peer into the lives of the citizens of this country. The stated reason is that these "tools" are needed to track-down and stop the terrorists that may be in our midst before they have a chance to act. Yet there have been numerous reports of law enforcement officials, specifically the FBI, having tracked down the basic outline of the network that existed in this country prior to September 11th. The Frontline program "The Man Who knew" documented one such case in which the agent, John O'Neill, had documented and detailed the network of Al Qaeda camps, agents and connections in the years leading up to September 11th. O'Neill, however, was not well liked by top level of the FBI and his efforts to steer the agency down the path did little but cause himself to be pushed aside. His is the most dramatic case in that, he retired from the agency in 2001 to become the head of security for the World Trade Center. He believed that Al Qaeda was going to strike the towers again, to finish the job. He had also told a number of people in and out of the intelligence world that an attack was going to happen soon, and it would be big. O'Neill died on September 11th when the towers collapsed.

The efforts and achievements by O'Neill and others was done with old-fashioned detective work. That and strong international cooperation. They were able to work agents around the world and with the international intelligence and law enforcement agencies to put together the clearest picture of the threat anyone had at the time. Certainly work needs to be done to foster greater coordination between law enforcement and intelligence agencies, but more intrusive forms of law enforcement are a greater threat to our freedoms than the threat of terrorism.

Certainly public opinion may not reflect my own position on this topic, but the possibility of secret courts, the loss of habeas corpus, and monitoring of lawyer-client conversations should all send chills down the spine of anyone who values the Bill of Rights.

This administration is on the path to cause a great deal of constitutional problems, ones that once we involve ourselves in, we may find are not as simple to get out of.

No comments: