June 09, 2005

The Patriot Act Is Not Equivalent To The War On Terror

Too often I see people, mostly conservative Republicans and political-beat journalists that majored in communications, trying to use the Patriot Act as sort of the signature issue for the non-Iraq war on terror. This is horribly flawed. First of all, the war on terror is Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Georgia, the Philippines and taking the fight to the tyrants and terrorists of the world so that we'll be fighting in their homes and headquarters instead of ours. The color-coded warning systems and the Patriot Act aren't the war on terror; they're a portion of the attempt to prosecute terrorists. But John Kerry (sometimes) supports these things; the real war on terror is taking the fight beyond our borders to the terrorists and their tyrannical allies who spawn and then bribe them.

Moreover, the Patriot Act, at least portions of it, isn't constitutional. it seriously attacks the Fourt Amendment and the protection of warrants (for my How Does The Supreme Cour tWork? piece that covers warrants and the like, click here). For example, the act took an old law from the late 1970s and changed it in a few critical ways - unconstitutionally. The law related to foreign diplomats suspected of engaging in espionage and allowed the feds to violate the warrant rules and privacy protections of said diplomats as long as any evidence uncovered would only be used to expel the diplomat, not in criminal proceedings. The Patriot Act changed the law so that it's not limited to espionage, it CAN be used in criminal proceedings and it can even be used against US citizens. That's a pretty serious change, one that doesn't meet constitutional standards and that violates our freedoms.

I'm offended that conservatives would suggest I have a weak commitment to fighting terrorists because I'm not willing to tear down the Fourth Amendment to do it. The Fourth Amendment is just the sort of thing we're fighting for. Free speech, freedom of conscience, right to dissen, right to life, innocent until proven guilty, private property, free markets, liberty itself - these are the things we're fighting for. It makes no sense to me that we should destroy the very things that make us better than the enemy.

Also, torture is not a signature issue of the war on terror. I think we can run our wars and our intelligence operations without morphing into Nazis, Communists or Islamo-fascists. Torturing people convicted of no crime is simply immoral (although if you asked me whether torturing a terrorists is wrong, I'd say no - the trick is knowing who's a terrorist, and whether we can trust such a power to the government) but it's also a bad idea. Aside from the backlash we get from other countries - which is incidental; there'd be a backlash if we offered non-halal cheeseburgers to the detainees - torture is not a great way to get good information. Tortured suspects will often say anything to make the pain stop, and that makes them bad sources.

But beyond that, it's not legal, nor should it be. We are a nation of laws and freedoms, and if we allow times of trouble to weaken our freedoms then we trade our liberty for a false sense of security.

Torture, indefinite detainment and warantless searches shouldn't be part of the war on terror, and people who oppose these follies but support an aggressive military engagement with terrorists abroad shouldn't be branded as opposing the war on terror. Just because I believe in keeping the 4th and 6th Amendments doesn't mean I don't want the military to go judiciously bonk some heads.

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