Skip to comments.Seminar focuses on civil liberties: DC event takes on fears about freedom loss during time of war
Posted on 02/03/2003 11:39:51 PM PST by JohnHuang2
One of the most popular events at a conference hosted by the Conservative Political Action Committee, or CPAC, in Washington, D.C., focused on the topic, "Safeguarding Civil Liberties in a Time of War."
The weekend conference drew an estimated 4,000 participants, about half of whom were members of Young Americans for Freedom from all over the U.S.
The packed civil-liberties session was moderated by former Virginia Gov. James Gilmore, who chairs the Gilmore Commission on Domestic Response Capabilities to Terrorism. Others included former Georgia Rep. Bob Barr, Washington Times columnist Frank Gaffney, syndicated columnist Nat Hentoff and former Reagan official Victoria Toensing.
Gilmore, who also spoke on the subject at an evening banquet, vigorously supported constitutional protections, quoting Benjamin Franklin in stating that he who gives up liberty for security will lose both. He said that the majority of his commission had voted to bring in the U.S. military immediately upon any new terrorist events in the U.S., whereas he had urged that civilian authorities be the first to respond.
Barr, who now is working with the American Conservative Union Foundation, brought up the book "1984."
"Almost never in my life do I reread a book," said Barr, "but last summer I reread Orwell's classic.
"While going through an airport security control, I thought of how its chief character, Winston Smith, always was concerned about whether his tone of voice or eye contact or body language might give him away to the secret police. For me it would just be a time-consuming inconvenience if I were singled out, but I felt the similarities. Our government used to need 'probable cause' to arrest a person, but no longer."
Barr spoke of the "eroding fundamental foundations of the Bill of Rights," and how the founding fathers had stressed the importance of privacy over one's personal papers and documents.
"We are that close" to living under surveillance described in "1984," he said, urging everyone in the audience to read the book again.
Frank Gaffney argued of the danger of Wahhabi Muslims and described their inroads into the U.S. Muslim community. He said that Saddam wanted revenge upon America for what was done in Desert Storm. Gaffney said that "infringements upon our liberties were modest and entirely justified," and that we are "one catastrophic attack away from worse infringements upon our freedoms."
Barr got the most applause for his statements, until at the end of the session a military man in the audience promised that civil rights would be respected by American soldiers and urged the audience to "trust our military." His comments, too, received hearty applause.
Nat Hentoff noted that the Democratic National Committee was silent on these issues and that he "felt more at home here" discussing them. He started off quoting former Judge Louis Brandeis about the threat to liberty "from men of zeal, well meaning, but without understanding." He strongly criticized provisions of the PATRIOT Act and Homeland Security Act, typified by one prohibiting librarians from telling any person about any investigation of individual readers' book selections. He also criticized the invasion of computer privacy, pointing out that the war on terrorism could last for decades.
Hentoff praised the Bill of Rights Defense Committees, which are springing up all over America, saying they were similar to the "committees of correspondence" formed prior to the American Revolution in the 1760s. The new committees ask local city councils to pass laws requiring their own police to alert municipal officials of federal police actions under the PATRIOT Act that affect local citizens. Gaffney strongly disagreed, criticizing the committees' actions as providing potential safe havens for terrorists.
Hentoff warned his listeners that even though Americans had in the past eventually recovered most of their freedoms after a war, it often took a long time. For example, Lincoln's suspension of the Writ of Habeas Corpus law was not regained until 1868, when it was finally declared illegal by the Supreme Court.
David Keene, president of the American Conservative Union which organizes the CPAC conferences had a year earlier expressed concern on the subject of constitutional freedoms during war. The New Republic quoted him about the previous year's conference as stating that few speakers or attendees showed much concern for the subject, but that he was concerned. This year, however, it was well debated.
In a straw poll of attendees, Attorney General John Ashcroft came in as the favorite Bush Cabinet member, with a 77 percent approval rating, followed by 62 percent for Secretary of State Colin Powell and 43 percent for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
The session was followed by another, "What are we Fighting For?" led off by commentator Oliver North. North blasted the French, to wild applause, for not cooperating with Washington, declaring that "the only things they could do was make over-priced wine and lousy cars."
Every once in a while I can string a few words together that have meaning but nothing like the words put together for President Bush. Those beautiful words that he so eloquently delivered on Saturday have somehow been attributed to me.
Those in the military, by and large, were "educated" in the same government schools that afflicted nearly all of us. And which have become exactly what the Prussians of 150 years ago -- their intellectual sparks -- urged them to be: places of indoctrination to be "good," obedient, submissive citizens.
I wish I could believe him. I'm not counting on it.
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