Perhaps there is no other issue as fragile to the preservation of our liberties than a careful balance between civil liberties and our national security. To its credit, the ACLU recognizes the danger if the scales are tipped too far to the side of national security, however it doesn't seem to acknowledge the danger if the scales are reversed.
"Absolute" is the key word to understanding the ACLU. Its absolutist philosophies, just as any extremist view, endangers the very civil liberties it claims to protect.
In his book "Twilight of Liberty", William Donahue compares Halperins views of liberty with that of Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson said, "A strict observance of the written laws is doubtless one of the high duties of a good citizen, but it is not the highest. The laws of necessity, of self-preservation, of saving our country when in danger, are of higher obligation. To lose our country, by scrupulous adherence to written law, would be to lose the law itself, with life, liberty, property and all those who are enjoying them with us: thus absurdly sacrificing the end to the means."
"There is no doubting the ACLU's concern that there are untrustworthy public officials who will invoke national security as a cloak to cover their own wrongdoings; the pages of history are full of them. But does that mean that the only proper response is to make absolute the Bill of Rights, even in those clear-cut instances when the nation's viability is seriously called into question: It is fair to say that most who have studied the question would prefer to side with Jefferson on this matter" Twilight of Liberty pg 172
There is probably no other time that a proper balance between civil liberties and national security becomes more important than in wartime. During times of war, sometimes unusual responses are implemented, often requiring suspension of certain liberties. Of course war opens the opportunity for abuse by governments, and the ACLU are right to watch for them. However, the ACLU in its absolutist perception of freedom, only worries about one side of the equation, civil liberties. It pays no attention to the national security side of things, not only ignoring it, but in many cases working against it.
It is nothing new for the ACLU. The grew out of an organized effort to protest World War I. The only exception to their anti-war stance was World War II, and part of that is due to the investigation during this time into the theory they could be a Communist Front group.
"From 9-11 to the present day, the ACLU has vigorously opposed every governmental attempt to more effectively protect the American people’s security. It sued, for example, to prevent the implementation of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, which was passed in November 2001 and included a citizenship requirement for airport screeners. It organized protests against a “discriminatory” Justice Department and INS registration system requiring male “temporary visitors” to the US from 25 Arab and Muslim nations to register with the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services. It condemned the FBI’s “discriminatory” plan to count and document every mosque in the US. It protested when FBI and Homeland Security agents recently tried to track down illegal Iraqi immigrants they deemed dangerous. In Illinois, the ACLU actually set up a hotline designed to give free legal advice to undocumented Iraqis facing deportation. Former ACLU Executive Director Ira Glasser casually dismissed Americans’ concerns about illegal immigration, chalking such sentiments up to a “wave of anti-immigrant hysteria.”
"The ACLU further claims that the Patriot Act has created an Orwellian big government of unprecedented proportions. “Under the new Ashcroft guidelines,” reads one of its disingenuous press releases, “the FBI can freely infiltrate mosques, churches and synagogues and other houses of worship, listen in on online chat rooms and read message boards even if it has no evidence that a crime might be committed.” Curiously, the ACLU does not mention that the FBI already had the authority to take these measures long before the Bush administration took power. Nor does the ACLU point out that the FBI can wiretap only after showing a court that the suspect is affiliated with a foreign terrorist group or government – the very same requirement instituted 25 years ago by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act".
"What the ACLU is actually rebelling against is the Justice Department’s recent removal of Clinton-era intelligence-gathering restrictions that had crippled the government’s ability to fight terrorism. These restrictions prohibited intelligence investigators from conferring and sharing information with criminal investigators, even if they were both trailing the very same suspect who was plotting a terrorist act. On August 29, 2001, for instance, an FBI investigator in New York desperately pleaded for permission to initiate an intensive manhunt for al-Qaeda operative Khalid Almihdar, who was known to be planning something big. The Justice Department and the FBI deputy general counsel’s office both denied the request, explaining that because the evidence linking Almihdar to terrorism had been obtained through intelligence channels, it could not legally be used to justify or aid an FBI agent’s criminal investigation; in short, it would constitute a violation of Almihdar’s “civil rights.” “Someday, someone will die,” the agent wrote to his FBI superiors, “and the public will not understand why we were not more effective and throwing every resource we had at certain problems.” Thirteen days later, Almihdar took over the cockpit of American Airlines Flight 77 and crashed it into the PentagonExerpt Front Page Magazine
One of the most revealing occurances towards the ACLU's absolutist position on national security and its recent evolution can be seen in the action the board of directors took at its Oct 1989 meeting: It dropped section (a) from its policy, "Wartime Sedition Act." Before, the ACLU held that it "would not participate (save for fundamental due process violations) in defense of any person believed to be "cooperating" with or acting on behalf of the enemy." This policy was based on the recognition that "our own military enemies are now using techniques of propaganda which may involve an attempt to prevent the Bill of Rights to serve the enemy rather than the people of the United States." In making its determination as to whether someone were cooperating with the enemy, "the Union will consider such matters as past activities and associations, sources of financial support, relations with enemy agents, the particular words and conduct involved, and all other relevant factors for informed judgement."
All of this is now omitted from the Official ACLU policy!
As these policy changes indicate, balancing national security interests and civil liberties is not a goal of the ACLU. Its only goal is the absolute pursuit of unlimited civil liberties, with no regard to any consequence or negative impact upon our security. Not only does it ignore the issue of national security, but there are many examples I have shown where they actually work against it, even to the point of defending the enemy. The absolute tragedy is that it is not only the nations's security the ACLU's absolutist philosophy puts in danger, but the very cause of liberty itself. We've also saw recently the attitude of the ACLU to securing our borders, again civil liberties trump national security.
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Cross posted from: Stop The ACLU Blog.