Another Conservative Critique of Anti-Terror Laws

One of the memes I desperately try to smother whenever I see it is "Only blindly-naive liberals are against anti-terror laws. They've been brainwashed by the ACLU!"

It is in this spirit I wish to offer a link and some quotes from a 2002 Cato Institute report that the Institute commended to our attention on January 30, 2003 in their Daily Dispatch.

The report, "Breaking the Vicious Cycle: Preserving Our Liberties While Fighting Terrorism" warns:

"Government officials typically respond to terrorist attacks by proposing and enacting "antiterrorism" legislation. To assuage the wide-spread anxiety of the populace, policymakers make the dubious claim that they can prevent terrorism by curtailing the privacy and civil liberties of the people. Because everyone wants to be safe and secure, such legislation is usually very popular and passes the legislative chambers of Congress with lopsided majorities. As the president signs the antiterrorism bill into effect, too many people indulge in the assumption that they are now safe, since the police, with their newly acquired powers, will somehow be able to foil the terrorists before they can kill again. The plain truth, however, is that it is only a matter of time before the next attack.

This cycle of terrorist attack followed by government curtailment of civil liberties must be broken—or our society will eventually lose the key attribute that has made it great: freedom. The American people can accept the reality that the president and Congress are simply not capable of preventing terrorist attacks from occurring. Policymakers should stop pretending otherwise and focus their attention on combating terrorism within the framework of a free society."

This 21 page report goes to catalog a number of the errors made prior to 9/11 that were NOT addressed by the USA PATRIOT Act and other "security laws" and reminds readers of prior abuses of gov't power. The report concludes with some suggestions that the author believes would make a more tangible contribution to security than expanded government powers.

Here's one last quote I think deserves mention:

"Freedom is not, was not, and will never be, a free good. Anyone who wants it must be prepared to defend it. And defending it necessarily carries the risk of seriously bodily injury or death. A free and independent people must take responsibility for their own safety and deal with their vulnerability in a mature fashion. A free and independent people should not expect supernatural powers from their president."

In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention this report makes the passing suggestion that the best defense against terror is a good offense. Not in the sense of invading and occupying entire countries, but in the sense of sending assaination squads against terrorist leaders. While I don't have a good answer to this, I can't believe such a policy would be any more effective than Israel's policy of killing terrorist leaders. There seems to be a neverending supply of people to take up the terror leadership. I suspect that we'd find the same.

The CATO Institute, for people unfamilar with it, describes itself this way:

"The Cato Institute seeks to broaden the parameters of public policy debate to allow consideration of the traditional American principles of limited government, individual liberty, free markets and peace. Toward that goal, the Institute strives to achieve greater involvement of the intelligent, concerned lay public in questions of policy and the proper role of government."

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