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When, If Ever, Is National Security More Important Than Constitutional Freedoms?: Left of Center View

If we sacrifice our freedom for supposed safety in one area what’s to stop us from doing it in other areas? What would be the next great threat to America that would merit trampling on the Constitution? Today it’s ok to torture an “enemy combatant” to keep them from committing an act of terrorism. Maybe tomorrow we can torture someone to find out who is supplying them with drugs. Where does it stop? Is it ok to torture only foreigners or could Americans pose such a danger as to merit being tortured to find out what they know?

Sadly, torture is only the tip of the iceberg. There are those in power who strongly advocate for constant monitoring of all communications to assure that any talk of terrorism can be monitored. Who decides what is promoting terrorism and what is only the venting of angry people about the inequities in our world? At what point do we have to worry about our words being used to put us in a dark room where people simulate drowning us until we tell them what they want to hear? Where does it end?

The truth is we cannot go down the path of suspending human rights and constitutional freedoms for some in the pursuit of security without risking damaging the principles behind our Constitution. Freedom of speech is at the core of what it is to be American. Freedom from unfair or undue persecution is another core principle of our Constitution. If we violate these core principles to promote “security” we are doing the work of the terrorists for them. Terrorism only works when it causes those being targeted to act in a way that is not in their general nature out of fear. Sacrificing our principles to have the illusion of security is not serving anyone’s best interests but does serve the agendas of the terrorists.

The “War on Terror” has been fought as if it can be won by military means. From a flawed premise has come a flawed strategy. This is not a military war that can be won by military means. Terrorists come from places of personal despair. Terrorists are not simply people who were born evil. Terrorists believe that they have been wronged and are fighting to right that wrong. To fight terrorism we need to understand where it comes from and if there is any merit to the feelings of the terrorists. If they have been wronged then maybe something needs to be done to right the wrong without going to war. If the wrong continues there will continue to be more terrorists to replace any that we kill. Killing the terrorists does not solve the problems that spawned them. If we want to spread our ideals around the world we need to live them as well as preach them.

The principles of liberty and freedom that are at the heart of what it should mean to be an American have to be preserved in all that we do or they are worthless. Nobody respects a hypocrite. If we want to preach freedom and democracy to the rest of the world we need to practice it around the world and more so with the people within our borders. How can we expect to lead the world to freedom when our government violates the constitutional rights of the people inside our borders on a daily basis in the name of national security? Who is really the threat to our way of life then?


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When, If Ever, Is National Security More Important Than Constitutional Freedoms?: Right of Center View

There are times in life when you have to decide between two courses of action. One course may compromise your ideals while saving your life. The other course may preserve your ideals but cost you your life. This is the dilemma we face when we have to decide when the situation falls under the category of things that the framers of the Constitution could not possibly have foreseen. When the constitution was written the power of the atom was not even a theory. Thomas Jefferson and other framers of the Constitution had no concept of weapons of mass destruction or people willing to blow themselves up killing civilians to make a political point. We live in a different world and need more flexible sensibilities when it comes to national security.

Twenty years ago if you had asked me if there was ever a time when it would be ok to torture a person to get information from them I would have said that under no circumstance would it have been acceptable. Since 9/11 I have come to understand that there are threats facing America that cannot be deterred without sometimes using unconventional means to gather intelligence. In our modern world of global travel and instant information sharing time can be of the essence and lives can be saved or lost by how quickly or slowly intelligence is obtained from people involved in terrorist activities. Minutes can make the difference between stopping an attack and seeing one on the news. We can’t afford to be squeamish when it comes to stopping the people that would love nothing more than to see every American man, woman and child dead in the ground.

In the post 9/11 world we have to be proactive in fighting terrorist threats against America. If a terrorist is captured we need to know what they know as quickly as possible. If that means we need to turn the thumbscrews on them then that’s what needs to be done. They are not threatening to hurt us economically or say bad things about us in some newspaper, they are trying to find ways to kill us. We need to use any means necessary to stop that from happening. If it comes down to a question of us or them then I guess they lose. Our lives and the lives of our children are unquestionably more important than the health and well being of some terrorist. They declared war on us. If they wanted to be treated like American citizens with all of the rights and freedoms that come with being American then they should not have blown up the World Trade Center.

Sometimes safety has to take precedence over principles. If someone knows something that can stop thousands or even millions of people from being murdered then our government should be able to use any means necessary to get that information and keep Americans from being killed. Our children deserve to know that our government has every tool in their toolkit to keep us safe from the terrorists. To protect Americans in the twenty-first century our government needs to be fairly pragmatic. When threats arise they need to be stopped and if that means we have to cut a couple constitutional corners to do it then so be it. Better a tortured terrorist than dead innocent children in our streets.

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