Peace through victory - the American way.

Monday, March 06, 2006

ACLU Lawyer Debates USA Patriot Lawyer In San Diego.

Tonight the Community Issues Forum of San Diego presented a debate entitled "National Security vs. Civil Rights: Where is the balance?" The two debaters were former Bush Administration lawyer Viet Dinh and ACLU attorney Candace Carroll. As with most American debates, there was no real debate. Instead each person spoke for 20 minutes, they took questions from the audience, and at the end each speaker gave a five minute summation.

Carroll used her prepared remarks to cite statistic after statistic in order to make a case that the Bush Administration is systematically committing wholesale violations of civil rights and that those violations are not making us any safer. Dinh spent his time refuting common perceptions about the USA Patriot Act with the intent of showing that the US government is not overreaching in its fight against the real threat posed by Al Qaeda.

There were 13 questions from the audience, nearly all directed to Dinh, a couple to Carroll, and all but one opposed to Dinh's position. There was one neutral question. For an event sponsored in part by a university that is probably par for the course.

The fault line in American politics between those who believe the War on Terror is a real war and those who believe it is not was prominent. Dinh did not overtly say whether he believed the War on Terror is a real war, instead he chose to state that however the conflict is characterized, the threat from Al Qaeda is real. Carroll more than once disputed the idea that the War on Terror is a real war. She began the evening by referring to it as a "so-called war on terror." In her closing remarks she said it's not a war, it's a different kind of war, and that more people died last year from heart attacks and drowning than did in 9/11.

Carroll's belief that the current war is not really a war appears to drive her opposition to nearly all the tactics being employed by the Bush Administration to fight Islamist terrorism. That belief leads her to take incoherent positions on the war.

For instance, she said at one time that if we let our liberties be taken away by our government out of fear of Al Qaeda, then the terrorists will have won. She is wrong about that. Americans will have lost if we lose our liberties but the terrorists will not have won. Al Qaeda doesn't care if we lose our liberties. Al Qaeda is fighting us for a different reason and they define their victory differently than that. Al Qaeda is fighting us to drive the United States out of the Middle East. Al Qaeda wants the US out of the Middle East so they can focus their fight against the regimes in Moslem countries that do not govern according to Al Qaeda's interpretation of Islam.

In another example of incoherence, all evening Carroll argued that the Bush Administration is violating civil rights by going overboard in spying on Americans. She complained about the Patriot Act's so-called library provision, the roving wiretap provision, the sneak and peek provision, the pen register provision, the expanded power to use the FISA court. She then complained about the NSA's monitoring of international phone calls.

Her consistent theme was of governmental overreach in spying. And yet, in her final remarks she changed her tune and complained because Homeland Security is not doing enough spying in America: First, because not every piece of luggage that goes into the hold of passenger planes is scanned by the TSA; and second, because not every shipment of cargo that comes into US ports is scanned or searched. So, apparently the US is doing too much spying and not enough at the same time.

Her other incoherent point concerned the scope of authority given to the President by the Congressional resolution for the use of force after 9/11. She suggested that it was reasonable for the US Supreme Court to find in the Hamdi case that detaining combatants on the battlefield was authorized by the resolution. After all, capturing enemy soldiers happens in war and it's reasonable to infer that Congress authorized it when it authorized force after 9/11. Capturing enemy combatants is closely related to the use of military force.

But she then argued that the resolution did not authorize the President to spy on international phone calls under the NSA program because that kind of spying is not closely related to fighting a war. Yet her own belief is that we are not fighting a real war on terror. As she put it we have a "security problem" and we are fighting a different kind of war. She's right, it is a different kind of war. It's a war in which we need to know what enemy terrorists are planning in order to prevent future 9/11s. That's precisely the kind of war in which spying, eavesdropping, and surveillance are closely related to the use of force.

But the most absurd consequence of her belief that we are not really at war is how she rates the threats facing our country. She finished her remarks with this unbelievably delusional statement:
"I'm more afraid of Bush and the FBI than I am of somebody who lives in a cave."
This, despite the fact that President Bush is approved by less than 40 percent of the country's voters, he is ineligible to run for President again, he has a Vice-President who has no intention of running for President, he belongs to a party with no clear successor to run for President, his party is at serious risk of losing control of Congress in 2006, and the opposition Democrats who are poised to take over in 2006 have significant numbers of supporters who favor impeaching the President. O yeah, President Bush is a bigger threat to the United States than Osama bin Laden.

-tdr

(Reposted on 3/7/2006 to correct Technorati tags.)

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