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What Price Security?
January 6, 2004
By Fredrick H. Winterberg III

Following the news these days, one has to wonder where it will all end. We hear of terror alerts, level orange, "high alert." We hear of armed policemen on all civil airlines. We hear of draconian measures being taken in Washington, D.C., like barricades and walls around our national monuments, Humvees with machine guns pointed at traffic, and the growing prevalence of surveillance cameras in public. The question is, at what point will we feel "safe?"

Benjamin Franklin was quoted as saying, "Those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither liberty nor security." The meaning is obvious; you can't ensure freedom by taking it away.

Yet that is exactly what our government has been doing in the 27 months since September 11, 2001. First came the PATRIOT Act, with its blatantly unconstitutional search and seizure, wiretapping, and detention provisions. This odious piece of legislation was rammed through Congress - many lawmakers didn't even have a chance to read the revised version they eventually voted on - by John Ashcroft and the Bush administration, who, it would appear, wanted to get their hands on as much power as they could as quickly as possible. Following this, Congress gave Bush a blank check to go attack anyone he wanted to without their approval, ceding their constitutional authority and responsibility.

We then went gallivanting around the country, imprisoning people who were "suspected" of having ties to terrorists, and gave them no access to lawyers, or the courts, or even a chance to tell their families what had happened to them. We invaded Afghanistan, ostensibly to find Osama bin Laden, and rounded up a whole bunch of other suspected terrorists, and sent them to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where they still sit today, detained indefinitely as "enemy combatants" with no formal charges brought.

Then came the invasion of Iraq, which, despite the Bush administration's assertion that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and was going to turn them on us, was no threat at all to us or even to their neighbors. It has been subsequently found that Saddam didn't have these weapons after all, and this action has, by all accounts, made us far less safe then we were before attacking Iraq.

And just when Congress and the courts are starting to take a long overdue look at the excesses of the PATRIOT Act, and talking of rolling back some of its worst excesses, we find Bush has signed PATRIOT Act 2 under the cover of heightened terror alerts and warnings. This gives even more latitude to law enforcement to trample our rights than PATRIOT 1 did.

Excuse me, but this is not the America I know and love.

The fact is, we are no safer now than we were on September 10, 2001, and are very likely far less safe. Bush's careening around the globe like a drunken sailor on a violent binge has enraged our friends as well as our enemies. He has created a new haven for international terrorism with his bungled war in Iraq, where we will now, in all likelihood, see terrorist activity where there previously was none. Giving new powers to law enforcement is far more likely to bring about massive abuse of authority than it is to net terrorists; the fact is, they had all the tools they needed to avert the 9/11 tragedy before it happened, but completely dropped the ball. So, in the end, what we have ended up with is a wholesale gutting of our civil liberties, and a markedly more dangerous world; a scared and terrorized populace, with its own government doing the terrorizing.

So, what to do?

Unfortunately, nothing will change under the current administration; the first step has to be removing Bush and his thugs from power next November. If we can accomplish that, and I think there is a good chance we can, I think we can get our country back.

The second step is for us, as a collective nation, to reconsider 9/11. We need to honestly assess what happened, why it happened, and use that knowledge to prevent future attacks from occurring. So far, we have been told it is because terrorists "hate our freedom" and little else. This is a load of crap. Until we can honestly assess the reasons it happened, we will be hopeless to understand it and prevent it from happening again. Only then will be able to move forward; to date it hasn't happened, in no small part because the Bush administration doesn't want it to. They benefit enormously from a scared, cowed populace. It's time we realize this and take that power back from them.

The third step is to take the knowledge gained in step two and apply it to how we deal with the rest of the world. It is no big secret that our oil-based foreign policy in the middle east is a prime reason the terrorists attack us. Instead of pumping billions into foreign countries like Saudi Arabia, we should be developing alternative energy sources so we would no longer be as dependent on importing their oil. If we weren't there propping up their corrupt monarchy with our oil dollars, I don't believe we'd be seeing such a terrorist backlash. This obviously, would take a long time; however, if you really want to defeat terrorism, you're not going to do it with a war, especially the kind of war the Bush administration is trying to fight. You have to address the problem at its roots, which we have refused to do.

Lastly, we have to come to terms with and accept the fact that we live in a dangerous world. To conduct a "war on terrorism", where your goal is to eradicate it from the earth, is to conduct a war without end because it is impossible to accomplish. I believe it can be drastically reduced if we make the aforementioned changes, but to lead people to believe it can be eliminated is a flat-out lie. It is far better to be honest with the people of this country, do our best to head off attacks before they happen, and then deal with it as best we can if they do happen without trashing the Constitution. It is far more liberating to live unafraid yet aware of the risks inherent in life than it could ever be to live with a false sense of security brought about by being repressed by our own government.

I refuse to live in fear of being attacked by terrorists. Granted, I live in an area where said attacks are highly unlikely, but I am originally from just outside of New York, and visit there often. I have a brother and sister in New York City, and I take my two children there with no qualms about what may happen. I was on one of the first flights that was allowed to go up after 9/11, the very day the airports re-opened, and was able to fly without any fear of terrorists bringing down the plane.

I refuse to be intimidated, especially knowing that that is how the unelected Bush administration wants me to feel.

And one final note: the media tries to portray Bush as some kind of fearless cowboy, but when we look at reality, we see a different picture. During the Cuban missile crisis, when a nuclear exchange between the US and the USSR was seemingly imminent, President Kennedy stayed in Washington, at the White House. He refused to be intimidated, and in doing so I truly believe he gave all Americans strength and courage through his actions. Contrast this with Bush on 9/11 - he ran around the country like a scared rabbit, afraid to return to Washington DC, preferring to hide in a bunker in Nebraska until he could be sure the coast was clear. When asked about his thoughts during that day, he actually said "I was just trying to get out of harm's way". Read about the security detail that he takes wherever he goes, and the lengths they go to to protect him, and you'll see the real George Bush - a coward of the first degree. Beneath his cowboy fašade, stripped of his money and family name and power, is a scared little man.

Let's make sure we send this scared little man home to Texas in November, where he belongs.

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