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Patriot Act
Are we bartering
Liberty for Security?

Commentary by your Webmaster
C. Douglas Sterner
April 10, 2004


 

Ten years ago in celebration of our 19th Anniversary, Pam and I decided to celebrate in paradise.  For both of us, with the exception of my own two tours of duty in Vietnam decades earlier, it was our first trip abroad.  

As we deplaned the first thing to catch my eye was the armed soldiers that seemed everywhere.  It was an odd contradiction with the term "paradise," an indication that we were either subject to perils we were unaccustomed to in our own country, or that we had stepped back in time.  Traveling from the airport to our resort, again I was surprised to see sand-bagged bunkers at every major intersection, and armed soldiers or police officers randomly stopping motorists, checking papers and credentials, and standing watch for some danger I could not yet identify.  By the time our week ended, I concluded that there was no real danger but that we had simply chosen to celebrate in a country that lacked the order, sophistication, and freedom of travel and movement I was used to.  

This assumption aside, throughout the week I must admit that not infrequently did I also regularly feel that perhaps I had stepped back in time.  The scene reminded me eerily of my days in Vietnam.  I was somewhat uncomfortable throughout the week which was otherwise quite enjoyable, but was happy to return to my own country where such sights were totally beyond acceptance.

Two years ago I drove to the airport at the nearby city of Colorado Springs to pick up my son-in-law, an Air Force officer who was coming home for Christmas.  Driving into the airport, again I felt as if I was traveling back in time, back to that same foreign country we had visited or to war-torn Vietnam where I had served.  Indeed, our local airport had turned into the same armed camp I had witnessed abroad.  In view of 9/11, I could understand the heightened security.  At the same time, I suddenly was filled with sadness.  I wondered if somehow the great tragedy that had befallen our Nation had caused us to regress into an almost third-world state of defensive action.

FLASHBACK:

The British colonies that would become the first United States were dangerous places in the mid-18th century.  There were dangers from Indians, the treat of incursion by other European powers, and as always in any society, threats from domestic criminal and insurgent individuals and groups.

To provide a more secure environment for the people who lived in the Colonies, King George maintained an army throughout.  Of a certainty, that army had its share of corrupt officers who took advantage of the populace, but the presence of that British army was a necessary evil--one whose presence was required to maintain order and safety for the Colonial population.

As Americans, we often think that the Revolution of 1776 that began with The Declaration of Independence was predicated upon King George's policy of Taxation without Representation.  Taxation was certainly an issue; for the Colonists it was an unequal policy levied without providing the people choices in directing their own lives, for King George a necessary step in maintaining the army necessary to PROTECT the Colonies from danger.

The issue of taxation aside, the real issue that led to the American Revolution went far deeper.  It was a matter of the loss of civil liberties in the name of security.  The Declaration of Independence itself is less of a decree of separation than it is a list of grievances, among them:

  • He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

  • He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

  • He has erected a multitude of new Offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.

  • He has affected to render the military independent of and superior to the civil power.

  • He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution...depriving us, in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury.

King George might well have argued that such steps were necessary for the protection of the Colonies.  The Intolerable Acts that became the trigger for revolution, could easily have been explained as necessary to the public good.  Among them was:

  • THE QUARTERING ACT:  An act deemed necessary for the appropriate maintenance of an army to defend the colonies, but which was a serious invasion of the privacy of one's home.

  • THE QUEBEC ACT: An effort to keep out undue influence from outside the Colonial borders, and more specifically, to keep Canadian malcontents from infecting the American Colonies with allies in insurrection.

  • THE MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNMENT ACT:  An act severely curtailing local self-government in one of the Colonies' most ardent areas of unrest, and giving the King control over any efforts of local government.

  • ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE ACE:  This act basically stripped away any hope for DUE PROCESS in legal proceedings related to insurrection or national security.  If someone was accused of crimes we would describe in today's verbiage as "threat to national security", due process was suspended including the right to a trial by one's peers.  Offenders, in violation of all forms of Judicial due process, could be sent to England for trial.

  • THE BOSTON PORT ACT: Emotionally, we as proud and patriotic Americans can put a patriotic spin on the BOSTON TEA PARTY.  The fact is, despite its significance in our history, this event was nothing more than an out-of-order riot--civil unrest at its most dangerous.  King George might well have explained the Boston Port Act as a necessary step to ensure the security of the region from additional such dangerous activity.

By 1776 the American Colonists had to make a difficult decision.  They could live in relative safety from enemies either without or within, protected by the might of the Great British empire.  Of course, to do so, the residents in the Colonies would have to sacrifice personal liberty to enable King George to adequately protect his people.  The other option was fraught with danger.  That was to remove themselves from England's protection in order to gain true freedom from government interference.

The logical conclusion had been perhaps best echoed two years before The Declaration of Impendence, when a 39-year old attorney pointed out the error of sacrificing personal liberty for peace and security in a speech to the Virginia House of Burgesses.  Patrick Henry noted:

"Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?
"I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!"

Patrick Henry's famous litany is often misinterpreted by those who think he meant that he would rather be dead than live under King George's rule.  If you read his words, the fiery patriot was pointing out what we would do well to remember today:  FREEDOM IS A DANGEROUS QUALITY.

Freedom and personal liberties are tied together.  Near-absolute security (if it can be achieved), can only come from absolute power.  If everyone is willing to live in a cocoon and to expose all of their personal secrets to some higher, powerful entity, we are protected.  As a parent, for years it was my responsibility to protect my children, and to do so I was not above snooping to keep track of the things they were doing, or to find the hidden dangers  that they might inflict on themselves.  Certainly one of the most important roles of a parent is to envelop their children in a cocoon of safety, often delving into that same cocoon to protect the child from themselves.  In time, however, as the child matures, we must quit infringing on the rights of our sons and daughters and grant them the freedom to rise to their own potential, despite the dangers.  

Freedom comes with great danger.  Patrick Henry understood this, and determined that he would rather be FREE and live under threat of the dangers freedom brings, than to live in peace and safety at the cost of personal liberty.

The tragic events of September 11, 2001, shook our Nation and placed fear inside the hearts of all of us.  Suddenly we found ourselves vulnerable, and all of us realized that we were at great risk.  The threat is real, the fear well-founded.  I however, fear one thing MORE than the threat of danger from foreign terrorists who hate me because I am American.  I fear the sacrifice of personal liberty, all for the sake of security.  For that reason, I have some serious issues with the Patriot Act.

For me, this dissention is a serious break from many of my closest friends.  (While my website makes every effort to remain non-political/non-partisan, in this commentary area of the site where I try to promote the free exchange of ideas, I've made no secret of my conservative ideals or my proud Republican affiliation.)  Recently, while discussing these concerns with a close friend who is also a key staffer for one of my state's leading politicians, my friend pointed out in defense of the Act:

"We are at WAR.  President Roosevelt did the same thing (as President Bush) during World War II. During the Civil War, President Lincoln also found it necessary to curtail certain personal liberties in the name of national security."

This is an argument I simply can not accept.  FIRST, precedent doesn't make something right.  Because a former president took certain steps he felt necessary, doesn't validate those steps.  One of the most glaring examples of the loss of personal liberty for the sake of national security came from President Roosevelt when he signed Executive Order No. 9066 two months after Pearl Harbor in the interest of national security.  Former Supreme Court Justice Tom C. Clark at that time represented the Department of Justice in implementing Executive Order No. 9066, the program that by his own words:

"Despite the unequivocal language of the Constitution of the United States that the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, and despite the Fifth Amendment's command that no perso0n shall be deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process of law, both of these constitutional safeguards were denied by military action under Executive Order 9066."

In the name of "national security," arising out of the deadly attack on Pearl Harbor by the Empire of Japan, Executive Order 9066 stripped more than 110,000 AMERICAN citizens of their right to property and due process and confined them to what can only properly be described as PRISON CAMPS--all because they were Japanese by race.

Five years ago I would never have believed it possible that an American citizen could be apprehended in his or her home in the dark of night, jailed without charges, denied access to an attorney, and their location kept secret even from their own family.  Such is the danger of bartering personal liberty for security.

The Patriot Act, adopted just 45 days after the attack on the World Trade Center, was intended to address some of the problems in law enforcement's ability to gain needed information in order to promise YOU, the American citizen, security in the face of this dangerous new world we have suddenly found ourselves living in. In so doing it removed many of the checks previously established to limit law enforcements intrusion into YOUR life.  For example, under the Patriot Act, the FBI now has the power to access your most private medical records, records of what books you check out at the library, the records of your school grades and courses studied, and hide the fact that they have made such a personal invasion into your private life from anyone.  And this is only the tip of the iceberg.

The argument in favor of the Patriot Act rightly points out that without these sweeping new powers, law enforcement would be hampered in its efforts to investigate terrorists and pre-empt attacks upon America.  Without the Patriot Act, we are undoubtedly less-well protected.

So the question arises, are we willing to sacrifice some of our privacy, as well as some degree of right to due process, in order to be safe.

I, for one, opt to choose liberty with its inherent dangers to a cocoon of safety at the cost of my freedom, rights and privacy.  In this I must echo the famous words of Patrick Henry, and certainly agree with Benjamin Franklin, the wise sage of the American Revolution who wrote:

"Those who would sacrifice liberty for security....              
                         Shall HAVE....and deserve....NEITHER!"


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Ok the US is not all that free! I mean Kids can't be forced to go to school!! plus how parents sometimes treat us! go do this go do that! We also don't get a chance to vote!!! we're smart enough if we can read!! now I'VE HEARD ABOUT "illegal aliens" i THOUGHT THIS WAS A FREE COUNTRY!!! I mean Mexico doesn't ask America for "RESIDENT PAPERS" no fair!! then how do people treat you hear I can't go into a store without being followed by someone!!! Like theirs a big flot Amna other people need help but no their watching me!! I'm Mexican but a sweet one!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! sorry about this comments but its true and American should lean what I do!
Ambar <totalyspygirl@sbcglobal.net>
Springdale, AR USA -
First i would like to say, I am an avid supporter of civil liberties for all Americans. There are certain portions of the patriot act that are unquestionably unconstitutional. I personally feel that securtiy measures should be tightened and anyone who is suspected of terrorist activity, with empirical evidence, should be detained and dealt with accordingly. I do not support the patriot act but do support heightened security efforts. The argument about the government being able to access private records doesn't scare me because i have nothing to hide in particular and what they do find can't be used against you unless you have terrorist affiliations.
John Klenota <mrjdanger@aol.com>
USA -
Give me Liberty or give me George Bush. I have said this before, if the numbers in the polls do not look very favorable for George Bush to be re-elected, watch as this Government declares Marshall Law and cancels National Presidential elections. He needs to be removed from office, Impeached! The so called Liberal Press is non existent. The Bushies keep trying to blame everything bad on Bill Clinton. If you listen to the Right Wing, you might as well "Drink the Cool-Aid". Worse President that ever served in the office, bar none. He was M.I.A. (Missing in Alabama) if he served, he would have gotten paid. Lied to the American public numerous times. He and Condescending Rice lied when they said, if they ever would have known that a terrorist were planning to use an airplane to crash into a building, they would have taken appropriate measures to this country. Time magazine tells us that in 1995 there was a plot uncovered that terrorist were planning... So why did Bush and Condescending Rice lie?
Victor Beaudoin <abstractist@ttlc.net>
Raymond, NH USA -
i had heard that the patriot act gave the power to suspend the presidential election as marshall law would be declared. where can i see a copy of this document i would like to pass it on to many friends that don't believe me when i told them. thank you.
ed m. <palomino8463@aol.com>
deer park , n.y. USA -
Your concerns are admirable and justified, but not with regard to the Patriot Act, in my opinon. Dianne Feinstein had her staff ask the ACLU for examples of abuse and the ACLU responded that they could find none. (Sen. Dianne Feinstein [D-CA], Committee On The Judiciary, U.S. Senate, Hearing, 10/21/03) A Justice Department study found the same. There have been some cases of investigatory abuse, but nothing dealing with measures in the Patriot Act. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn?pagename=article&contentId=A54142-2004Jan27¬Found=true) I believe the American people do indeed need to be mindful of their freedoms, but if they're truly concerned about privacy, they should focus their attention on curtailing the powers of the most invasive government agency--the IRS--and of the mandatory spending programs which eat up over sixty percent of federal outlays annually.
Clint Hayes <texvanwinkle@aol.com>
Dallas, TX USA -

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