So say a lot of knee-jerk rightards who would like only too well for people to hand their civil liberties over without a fight. But Steven Aftergood, of Secrecy News, has found otherwise–with the help of a very interesting source:
“In an open society like ours… it is impossible to protect against every threat,” said President Bush in an August 24, 2005 speech. “That’s a fact we have to deal with. In a free society it is impossible to protect against every possible threat,” implying that it might be possible in a closed or unfree society.
Similarly, according to February 15 testimony by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, “terrorists and criminals… would exploit our open society to do us harm.”
And “precious little can be done to prevent [terrorist attacks on soft targets] in a society like ours that rightly values personal liberty so highly,” wrote Clark Kent Ervin, former Homeland Security Inspector General, in a Washington Post opinion piece on May 7.
But a distinctly different perspective was offered by John C. Gannon, former CIA Deputy Director for Intelligence, in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week.
Among the reasons that there has not been another terrorist attack on U.S. soil since September 11, he proposed, are precisely the openness and freedom that some others view with anxiety.
“I believe that the hard-won Constitutional freedoms enjoyed by Americans, along with our unparalleled commitment to civil liberties embedded in law, work against the development of domestic terrorist networks that could be exploited by foreigners,” testified Gannon, who is now a Vice President at BAE Systems Information Technology.
“Americans have unparalleled Constitutional and legal protections to express grievances and to openly criticize government at all levels,” he replied in a May 6 email message.
“This doesn’t mean that terrorists wouldn’t try to operate here. It means that the terrorists or other extremists would find less fertile ground to build networks in the US because local support would be harder to come by and because local opposition would be more certain.”
“In this sense, our liberties are a powerful antidote to violent extremism.”
“This is not an academic point for me. It is an observation from a career of watching the domestic consequences of repressive regimes elsewhere in the world–including US-friendly Islamic governments such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt,” Gannon wrote.
The question of whether openness and civil liberties tend to enhance national security or to undermine it is not a theoretical one. Much depends on which one of the two perspectives prevails.
If openness and the rule of law are sources of vulnerability, or viewed as such, then they will be quickly surrendered in the name of security. Torture may be redefined to permit non-lethal abuses, habeas corpus may be suspended, statutes regulating domestic surveillance may be disregarded.
Conversely, if civil liberties and the rule of law are a source of strength, it follows that they should be bolstered and scrupulously upheld even in the conduct of vital security operations.
Secrecy News asked Dr. Gannon whether his views on civil liberties could be reconciled with intelligence programs such as warrantless domestic surveillance.
“The NSA warrantless surveillance program–the details of which are mired in secrecy–should not be seen as a tradeoff between security and civil liberties. But, for this to be true, the program must be bound by law and subject to both judicial review and competent Congressional oversight–the latter now in short supply,” he explained.
“I believe our democracy has the instruments to advance security and protect civil liberties at the same time,” he said.
It’s worth pointing out, of course, that the terror network that launched the 9-11 attacks didn’t do its recruiting on American soil, but rather overseas. The terrorists came to America already recruited and trained, posing as legitimate students in jet-flight schools. And damn if they didn’t come from such wonderfully repressive, yet US-friendly countries as Egypt and Saudi Arabia!
It’s also worth pointing out that American civil liberties have been used by a certain other kind of terrorist as a recruiting tool, though: namely, home-grown right-wing extremists. Everytime anyone but a white, Christian, heterosexual male wins a victory on the civil-rights front, the wingnuts go berserk. See Clayton Waagner, Eric Rudolph, or William Krar and Co. But, again: the civil liberties didn’t create or enable terrorism. At worst, they might be described as having elicited a knee-jerk reaction from the forces of extremist repression. The crucial difference being, these terrorists have a grudge against what is, by the vast majority, regarded as a good and beneficial thing.
Which, therefore, makes one wonder: Why, exactly, is BushCo so set against civil liberties, if they do not embolden or encourage terrorism but only drive neo-fascist nutcases up the fucking wall?
Uh, don’t answer that. I think I already know.