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ISSUE 117 VOL 9 PUBLISHED 11/21/2003

Civil liberties deliberated

By Jane Dudzinski
News Editor

Friday, November 21, 2003

Pat Buchanan, former presidential candidate, and Nadine Strossen, president of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), sounded off on the controversial topic of civil liberties since Sept. 11 in a packed Boe Chapel Tuesday night.

Sponsored by the Political Awareness Committee, the debate began with Strossen and Buchanan each delivering a 15-minute speech expressing their views on civil liberties. Charles Umbanhowar, associate professor of political science, served as the moderator of the event.

Strossen began her speech by addressing the Patriot Act, which gives the federal government increased authority to track and intercept communications for law enforcement and foreign intelligence gathering purposes. This law went into effect last year in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

Strossen characterized the Patriot Act as a "Big Brother" outfit in its "unjust cutbacks on civil liberties." Referring to the "sneak and peek" searches the government has the ability to perform, she questioned its invasion of citizens’ personal lives in areas ranging from financial status to religious beliefs.

In characterizing the "unilateral precedent to imprison American citizens without trial or counsel," Strossen said she believes that "[this measure] is too much to reduce our rights, but not enough to increase our safety."

Her main criticism of the law was that it was "implemented in a panic rush after the horrific terrorist attacks of Sept. 11," and that it did not address the actual issues facing the country at the time.

"It is impossible to do something to prevent future terrorist attacks without an analysis of the actual problem," Strossen said. "The key problem had nothing to do with the lack of an ability to gather information, but instead, the ability to act on the information that it had."

Buchanan began his speech with a direct rebuttal to Strossen’s points: "Did anyone hear the name of a single individual [whose civil liberties have been violated]?" Providing the answer himself, Buchanan explained this was because Strossen only spoke in "abstractions."

"I’m going to deal with reality. Let’s talk history … and the great presidents of history," Buchanan said.

He brought up Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, all of whom he said suspended civil liberties during wartime, from blocking elections to implementing internment camps.

Drawing a comparison between past government and today’s under President George W. Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft, Buchanan referenced the Guantanamo Bay situation.

"[Those being detained at Guantanamo Bay] ought to be treated as prisoners of war … Their whole war plan is to kill innocent civilians," he said.

He expressed his satisfaction with the Patriot Act and the American government’s interpretation of it, saying "there has not been one act of terror on American soil since 9/11."

Strossen offered a rebuttal that advocated that "a violation of civil liberties crosses all party lines." In referral to Buchanan’s previous assessment of abstractions, Strossen said that he "didn’t want me to deal with the abstractions of liberty and justice for all."

She explained the reason why she was unable to give names of individuals in the U.S. whose civil liberties had been violated by the government. Strossen said that the government has refused to name such individuals, despite her statistics that prove that over 85,000 individuals had been subjected to interrogation on American soil.

Buchanan’s rebuttal add-ressed Strossen’s attention to the text of the Constitution, saying that "the ACLU’s devotion to the Constitution is deeply touching."

He also provided a detailed discussion on the subject of torture, particularly during war time. "No government should tolerate torture, but we are in a very nasty, very different kind of war," Buchanan said.

Following Buchanan’s re-marks, there was a question and answer session, which addressed issues including the power of the Supreme Court, moral dilemmas during wartime, the School of the Americas, alternative solutions to the Patriot Act, the past justifying the present, the Massachusetts Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriages and the definition of terrorism.

On the definition of terrorism, Strossen and Buchanan at last seemed to find a point of agreement.

"The war on terrorism is endless because it is a war on a tactic, not an enemy," Buchanan said.

In the effort to answer as many student questions as possible, Buchanan and Strossen agreed to listen to additional questions and form their closing statements based on the context of the issues raised.

Strossen first asked the questions, "How do we reconcile in our democracy that the majority had the power to make the democracy? How can we have a government by and for the people if it’s invisible to the people?"

She offered a final solution to the Patriot Act, saying, "If we want to be sure that our rights are protected, it is the responsibility of we the people."

Buchanan then addressed the issue of governmental involvement in citizens’ lives, saying "If people allow rights to be taken, it’s the natural tendency to take more and more power."

His closing remarks examined government today’s in a broader context, concluding with "We have a judiciary dictatorship. We have a one party system with two wings of prey."

Umbanhowar was satisfied with the quality and liveliness of the debate, in addition to the student questions at the end.

"It was a reasonably healthy exchange, in part because they respect each other," Umban-howar said. "It was very educational, and the student questions helped move things along."

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