Just in time for the second anniversary of 9/11, a compendium of lawyerly essays on the cost of that event to our civil rights.
Former Human Rights Watch program director Brown here assembles a dozen attorneys and legal scholars to consider what some consider to be the rise of a near-police state from the ashes of the World Trade Center. “Within hours after the collapse [of the Twin Towers] and the destruction of a portion of the Pentagon,” she writes, “most of us knew that civil liberties would be under fire.” And not for the first time: as several contributors note, after similarly grave states of emergency, the first response of the government has been to curtail the rights of some if not all citizens and aliens within our national boundaries, with no real resulting gain in national security. Crediting George W. Bush for his efforts to avoid violence or repression along strictly ethnic lines, Brown and company nonetheless fault the administration, and in particular Attorney General John Ashcroft, on several rights-related counts, for, as Brown adds, “the president’s praiseworthy and successful efforts to avoid ethnic and religious violence were not matched by a comparable attempt to protect constitutional rights.” One of the government’s sins, in the view of contributors David Cole and Tanya E. Coke, is the increase in racial profiling to target suspected terrorists; as Cole remarks, “the safeguards of the criminal process are there for a reason, and whenever a democratic government imposes punishment or deprives persons of their liberty without adhering to these principles, it does more harm than good.” Another, rejoins Reg Whitaker, is the creepy Orwellian Total Information Awareness program of Iran-Contra veteran Richard Poindexter, a financially and spiritually costly campaign that, Whitaker holds, simply will not work. Still others, writes Janlori Goldman, are the various measures aimed at combating bioterrorism, many sublimely ridiculous—such as the Homeland Security department’s issuing of Baby Wipes and Dustbusters to every post office in the land.
Useful, provocative reading for civil libertarians and rights activists.