Keith Boyea's Blog

Notes & Commentary on National Security, Current Affairs and Bourbon

Why I Care About Civil Liberties

Thesis:  Civil liberties are the essence of America.  The existential threat to America is not from terrorism, it is from a loss of its essence. 

**This short post was inspired by a tweet last week that mocked the idea that disengaging from the world would allow  “nation building at home.”  I’m sympathetic to the argument–even if we were to disengage from the world, unemployment levels would still be high, we’d still have a large national debt, and Congress would still be dysfunctional.   I do think, though, that our foreign policy orientation over the past ten years has had an insidious effect on civil liberties at home.  In that way, foreign policy is connected to domestic policy, and many smart commentators have postulated that our foreign policy choices reflect our domestic policy choices.  So a reorientation of our foreign policy may allow us to reconsider some of the negative effects the Global War on Terror has had on domestic civil liberties.**

The most important issue to me in every election is the maintenance of civil liberties.  If you ask an American what sets America apart from other countries, they are likely to say something including the words “freedom” and “liberty.”  I propose that when freedom and liberty are put into practice by a government, they become civil liberties.  Civil liberties are the essence of America–they are defining characteristics.  They make America, America.   If America loses its essence, it loses its identity–if we lose our civil liberties, we lose America.

I think that 9-11 and the ensuing “war on terror” have done much damage to these freedoms and in responding to a non-existential threat, we’ve risked the essence of our country.

The loss of civil liberties and the rise of the security state have been well documented by other sources, so I will just provide a brief list of things that point to less civil liberty:

  • The Transportation Security Administration
  • The Department of Homeland Security
  • The Patriot Act
  • Warrantless Wiretapping
  • Ability of the Executive to declare the right to assassinate an American citizen*
  • Indefinite Detention
  • Police Militarization

I’m certain I’m missing a dozen other examples, but I think you get the point.  With the possible exception of police militarization all of those things are directly attributable to our War on Terror.  Despite the rhetoric of terrorism chicken littles, terrorism itself was not and is not capable of destroying America.   Our response to terror, however, is.  Do you want to be able to move around the country without being groped?  Do you want to be able to freely associate?  Do you want to be able to privately communicate with whomever you want?  Do you value judicial review of your legal issue?  Do you want some check on the President’s power to unilaterally declare someone a terrorist?   Do you want to be able to hold police accountable for unlawful behavior?
I know that civil libertarians often employ overheated rhetoric.  I hope to avoid that.  But I also hope that we can assess the damage that the War on Terror has done to our civil liberties, and move back towards a normalized state.


*Sentence updated to be more accurate


Written by keithboyea

July 25, 2011 at 4:25 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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