We Be Safer?
by Rick Kropp
Over the last few days it has been comforting, in a feel-good
sort of way, that I have appeared to have taken the safe,
(some would say cowardly), way out by begrudgingly accepting
and justifying our new anti-terrorism laws, cleverly called
the USA Patriot Act of 2001, on surveillance, detention, immigration,
But while I am taking the politically safe and seemingly
"patriotic" position on these new laws, will they
make my family and me safer? I have to think more about that.
Down deep my civil liberties barometer appears not to be
troubled by the federal government and law enforcement's sweeping
new powers to monitor and detain suspected terrorists. This
includes their greater powers to eavesdrop on suspected terrorists
and monitor their communications, including over the Internet.
I hope my barometer is not broken.
But will my ignoring civil liberties in favor of these broad
new powers make us any safer? I'll have to get back to you
The absence of my opposition to, some would say it should
be my rage against, these new laws may even extend, as troubling
and disgusting as it may be, to the horrifying notion of torturing
known or suspected terrorists, domestic or foreign, to obtain
vital intelligence that can save lives and prevent future
carnage. I don't like it, it's abhorrent, but if we get other
counties to do these terrible dirty deeds for us, so be it.
Just don't tell me about it or show me any news photos. Save
it for history books to read fifty years from now.
But will this torturing actually make America more secure
from more terrorist attacks? Can anyone give me a guarantee?
Tell you the honest truth, I just don't know.
Simply put, my easy way out comes down to justifying these
laws and actions because of the stark reality of our frightening
world after 9/11. My rationalization also includes being highly
pragmatic in combating worldwide terrorism and the terrible
magnitude of the threat before us. If these laws and actions
work, if they achieve their goals, then let's hold our noses,
try not to vomit, and just do them.
As you can see by now, I keep trying to convince myself that
the means will justify the ends if those ends will authentically
make our families and us truly safer, if they actually stop
future terrorist attacks on American soil and prevent more
American deaths, and if we defeat the terrorists groups around
the globe who want to kill us. That's a lot to ask and wish
So let's wait a minute now and think this whole thing through...
A minute's up. One apparent flaw of my position pops up:
we won't know if these laws and actions will produce these
desired ends until well into the future. Sort of saying trust
the government and law enforcement now, let them have their
way now to do what they want to do, and all will work out
for the best in the end.
Trust and let them do what they want. Now that's a frightening
In thinking further on this notion of the ends justifying
the means, a dilemma now emerges for me. What about trust
in and the competency of "those in charge" of using
My dilemma is that while I may feel comfortable being expedient
and pragmatic, and feel justified because these ends are so
very important to attain, in the final analysis I have to
admit to myself that I have very little trust in and seriously
question the skills and abilities of "those in charge"
to use these extraordinary means to achieve these highly desired
Thinking back over all my life, "those in charge"
have done little to earn my trust in them and have never fully
demonstrated their competencies to me.
Look at the Cold War spy games, the Vietnam War, Cambodia,
Watergate, CIA scandals like drug running in Laos, John Lennon
and Dr. King's having their civil rights trashed (using the
old, just superseded national security laws) on orders from
a man who wore a dress (not that's it's wrong for a man to
wear a dress), and other FBI scandals.
Lest we forget, we also have the Iran-Contra arms scandal,
our misguided foreign policy with Third World countries, especially
the Islamic world, Noriega and Panama, a foreign policy not
playing fair and square with many parts of the globe, and
a foreign policy in the Mideast, Asia and Africa that supports
and funds dictators and tyrants.
And last but not least, the vicious partisan and highly personal
warfare at home between Republicans and Democrats getting
higher priority (and much more press coverage) than urgent
foreign and domestic policy issues, and, most recently, a
fixed election and illegitimate presidency.
When it finally comes down to what's important, trust and
competency are paramount.
Thus I reserve my right to change my mind. On second thought
and rethinking this matter, I don't trust and have little
faith in the ability of "those in charge" of our
new anti-terrorism laws and obtaining vital intelligence by
whatever means necessary. The national security dragnet we'll
be stuck with is not only frightening, it won't work.
Upon reconsideration, I feel morally cleaner and intellectually
more honest being a civil libertarian, even if it means the
maintenance of our safety and our expeditious conduct of the
war against terrorism become more difficult. But, as they
say, that's the price we need to pay for freedom. And changing
Kropp is a retired nonprofit executive director and recipient
of the Dr. C. Everett Koop National Health Award.
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