The Liberty & Security Trade-Off

The liberal curmudgeon once known as the “most trusted man in America,” Walter Cronkite, spews out the typical spiel in his latest column that we’ve heard from the left every time the Bush administration has tried to make the country more secure from terrorism…

“The system of rights and liberties, checks and balances, created by the Founders, has been severely tested since Sept. 11. We witnessed the terrible destruction of the World Trade Center in New York and the attack on the Pentagon in Virginia, and watched with growing trepidation the collateral damage to our liberties caused by fear and overreaching at the highest levels of government. We remembered then Franklin’s stern judgment: “They that can give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

We have witnessed the president and attorney general of one of the most secretive administrations in American history claiming war powers to deny civil liberties protected by the Bill of Rights. We’ve seen the creation, in America, of a detention procedure in which detainees have had no recourse to lawyers, no chance to plead their innocence — people who simply disappear into a system right out of George Orwell’s “1984.”

But then, last week, the Supreme Court — the same conservative court that civil libertarians had begun to despair of — told Mr. Bush in a nearly unanimous ruling that “a state of war is not a blank check” and that he did not have the power to imprison American citizens or anyone else indefinitely, without any ability to challenge their accusers in a court of law. In other words, he could not suspend the Bill of Rights.

The system the Founders gave us still works as long as we guard it jealously and use it courageously — as did the attorneys who brought the detainees’ cases to the high court. The foundations of American democracy laid by the Founders still are there –still sturdy. That’s the good news. And even in these fearful, fractious and polarized times, we might still learn to deserve that liberty won for us by the men we celebrate and quote on the Fourth of July.”

All of that sounds very good and it’s entirely possible that there are Libertarians and Conservatives reading what Cronkite said, nodding their heads up and down, and agreeing with it. Particularly when it comes to that oft repeated Ben Franklin quote…

“They that can give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

All that’s well and good, and I’m not putting it down. There’s nothing wrong with taking that position. However, I have to admit that I have a real problem with people who toss that quote around casually without considering the implications of Franklin’s words.

You see, I don’t think we’ve given up a single “essential liberty” since 9/11. I think most of the fears about the Patriot Act have been wildly overblown. Furthermore, I have no more problem with detaining non-American terrorists at Gitmo without trials than I would have had with us keeping Nazis penned up in POW camps until WW2 was over. They chose to make war on the United States, so excuse me if I’m not exactly tearing up because they’re being confined indefinitely. They made their bed, now they’re going to have to lie in it.

As far as the American “enemy combatants” go, the potential for abuse is there, but given that we’re at war, they’re siding with the enemy, & there are exactly 3 of them being held right now, I think what the Bush administration is doing is reasonable under the circumstances.

I mean what do you say if you let a man like Jose Padilla go because you can’t reveal intelligence sources and he blows himself up in a shopping mall somewhere? Whoops? In my opinion, when you join the enemy & plot against your own country in a time of war, you have lost the right to use the Constitution as a shield.

Now, you may not agree with what I’ve just said. You may want to repeal the Patriot Act, put all the Al-Qaeda terrorists through the American court system, and allow Jose Padilla and the other America Al-Qaeda members to go free if we can’t make a case against them in our court system. So be it.

But, then when we get hit with any another terrorist attack, don’t scream, “Bush knew,” don’t complain that he should have stopped the terrorists from hitting us; just accept that attacks happened, at least in part, because you didn’t want additional security measures to be put in place, and live with it.

I say that because there is always a trade-off between liberty and security. The more liberty we have, the less secure we are. The more secure we are, the less liberty we have. That doesn’t mean we should put cameras everywhere like the British, start racial profiling at airports, or give the Feds a backdoor into everyone’s computer (personally, I’d oppose all of those things), but in a time a war we’ve got to be willing to take the most basic precautions to protect ourselves or be willing to suffer the consequences.

People should think about that when they oppose every reasonable security measure on the basis that it’s an “essential liberty” that we can’t possibly do without…

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