Civil liberties should not be sacrificed

There never was a war that did not have unforeseen consequences. There never was a war that didn’t cause fear and uncertainty. There never was a war where people wanted to be destroyed.

The thing about President George W. Bush’s war on terrorism is that the consequences are here. People are already afraid and uncertain. Things are already being destroyed. This military endeavor is costing more than human life. It is costing human freedom.

In a country founded on aphorisms like “”innocent until proven guilty”” and “”all men are created equal,”” there are currently two U.S. citizens being detained without legal representation and without being charged. The Bush administration is demanding the right to hold U.S. citizens in prison, denying them access to legal assistance without charging them with a crime. Even avowedly right-wing conservatives are finding such glaring trespasses of basic founding principles difficult to defend.

Jose Padilla and Yaser Esam Hadmi, two U.S. citizens, are both currently in solitary confinement under military control. Padilla, the alleged dirty bomber, was originally detained by federal agents upon arrival at Chicago O’Hare International Airport as a material witness in a New York grand jury crime. Several weeks later, federal authorities declared him a “”military combatant”” and he has since been handed over to armed forces.

Hadmi surrendered to Northern Alliance troops in Afghanistan and was held in U.S. custody there, then transferred to U.S. military base Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Hadmi was moved to a naval brig in Virginia upon discovery that he was born in Louisiana and had not renounced his U.S. citizenship.

Bush’s power to defy Padilla and Hadmi’ s liberties will be decided in their respective court cases, which are currently working their way through the federal courts. The federal district judges currently sitting in on both cases are conservative Reagan appointees. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals currently reviewing the Hadmi case for the third time is widely considered the most politically conservative in the country. But even its chief judge, Harvie Wilkinson, is balking at the idea that any U.S. citizen could be held indefinitely without charges or counsel.

In the face of judicial skepticism and civil liberties groups who are haltingly recovering ground after 9/11, the government has made slight concessions. The White House has agreed that the federal courts have some right to review such detentions, but it has insisted that any such review should be minimal and that the enemy combatants shouldn’t have access to legal counsel due to the possibility that they may pass information to terrorist organizations.

This is the price of this war, and it is a costly one. Its causes are clear, its effects complicated. A disaster strikes and people become frightened. In the name of homeland security, the government takes steps to prevent terrorism, violating civil liberties along the way. In the name of justice, rights are stripped. In the name of protection, we lose our freedom.

Perhaps someone will say that this is a necessary evil. But that view fails to consider the gravity of such an infraction. What is necessary is maintaining a free society with individuals who cannot be locked up because the government says so. What is necessary is defending our principles as well as our homeland. What is necessary is not giving up our freedom because of fear.

Perhaps someone will say that it’s only two individuals. But when human liberty is breeched on behalf of one person, then its foundation is shaken for everyone. If the rights of one citizen, regardless of how unsavory or treacherous, are violated without due process, then they are violated for us all. Such a devastating loss to civil liberty is not a reasonable cost. That is not a justifiable demand. That is not a punishment of treason, but rather a treacherous act against one’s own country.

Perhaps someone will say that this is part of war, that it has happened before and that the country has survived. An obvious example are the Japanese internment camps of World War II, in which thousands of U.S. citizens were forcibly removed from their homes and held under government consent because it allegedly protected the United States from possible espionage. Later, the administration of Bush Sr. admitted that the camps were wrong, and subsequent financial reparations were made. It was wrong then, and it is wrong now. Such actions are not waging war on another country but against ourselves.

The same government that claims to be defending the American way of life is in fact violating the founding ideals guaranteed in the Constitution. If such infractions of rights like legal representation and habeas corpus are allowed to continue in the name of national defense, then we are actually destroying ourselves, not preventing destruction on behalf of someone else.

Grounding a statement on the fact that other people agree is not a sound justification for an argument. But it is an indication of what people believe. When a democratic society agrees that civil liberties should not be violated in the name of preventing terrorism, then their government representatives are obligated to respond accordingly. A January 2002 Gallup Poll showed that 62 percent of those surveyed did not think that the government should take steps to prevent terrorism if it means taking their civil liberties away. Government officials are elected to represent the people who voted them into office. People do not wish to give up their rights. The government has a responsibility to respect that wish.

No one wants to let terrorists go. No one wants to endanger this country by allowing people guilty of treason to continue plotting against the United States. But if citizens like Padilla and Hadmi are held without charges or counsel, then far more is endangered than people and property. If violations of liberty are justified by the government, then we have lost more than the war. We have lost the right to patriotism and pride. We have lost the right to liberty and freedom. We have lost our national identity. The end does not justify the means. Fear does not justify an infringement of freedom.