Introduction by Edwin Meese III
After the events of September 11, 2001, a number of things happened. A military action was commenced against the terrorists. We established a Department of Homeland Security, and we passed legislation to provide better means in order to provide investigators and intelligence agents with the legislative authority and instruments to carry on the global war against terrorism and particularly to defend homeland security.
For the most part, what has happened is that various investigative and surveillance techniques that have been applicable to other types of criminal activity such as drug trafficking, organized crime, and the like, have been applied to terrorism. But despite the fact that a great many safeguards were built into the legislation which has become known as the U.S.A. Patriot Act, there still is a great deal of misinformation which has been spread throughout the country, which has caused some people to fear that civil liberties are in danger.
Today we have brought a panel of experts to talk about the Patriot Act, and to talk about civil liberties and Homeland Security, and to set the record straight, and to correct many of the myths that have been carried through the country on this particular subject. I will introduce each of the speakers as they rise to talk to you.
Bill Bennett is well-known, I'm sure, to most of you here. He has a distinguished record of public service. He served as Secretary of Education and chairman of National Endowment for the Humanities under Ronald Reagan and as director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under the first President Bush. I consider him one of the leading commentators on society and culture, and he has some 14 books that he's either authored or has edited. In addition, he serves as a co-chairman of Empower America.
But as though that wasn't enough, Bill has recently taken on some new responsibilities. He is the chairman of an organization called Americans for Victory over Terrorism, which is a project of the Claremont Institute. He's also the Washington, D.C., fellow of the Claremont Institute and has recently begun a new, nationally syndicated radio show that can be heard in some 76 citiesmaybe more. And that was yesterday!
He can be seen on www.bennettmornings.com, which is the Internet version of the radio show.
So, Bill, it's good to have you with us. Please welcome Bill Bennett.
Comments by William Bennett
Good morning ladies and gentlemen. Thank you, Ed, very much.
First, let me address the recent news about the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers. Some will no doubt say that a government that cannot be trusted with prisoners cannot be trusted with suspects. That's not true. That's not the government of the United States we are talking about.
I think that John Stuart Mill is appropriate here. He says: "Any standard will work ill if we suppose universal idiocy or barbarism to be conjoined with it." And that's true. As Justice Holmes said once, "The main remedy for most of what ails us is to grow more civilized."
And that I think is an appropriate word to use given the current circumstance, because it is a battle between civilization and barbarism, civiliza-tion and nihilism. It makes not a little difference, not some difference, but as Aristotle would say, "all the difference," whether the barbarism is an exception to your standard (as is Abu Ghraib now), or if barbarism is your policy (as was Abu Ghraib under Saddam Hussein).
What's happened over there with some of our military police and others is condemned by a civilized society, and it will be remedied by a civilized society. It is not the policy of a civilized society as it is the policy of some of those who relish in showing these videos over and over again.
I think our first task in talking about civil liberties in the context of this war requires us to remember a few things that some people have forgotten, and to put the whole debate in a general and historical context. Our enemy attacked us in disguise, not in uniform, not in marked war planes from an enemy country. Rather, unlike Pearl Harbor, our enemies trained abroad, moved here, lived here under the guise of legality, trained some more here, and used civilian aircraft, civilian tactics, and other civilians to kill as many innocent people as possible. Also, unlike Pearl Harbor, their targets were not military, but civilian; and unlike Pearl Harbor it appears that much of the money used to finance our enemies came from money raised in the United States and from money raised in countries that are purported allies of the United States.
So, how do we wage war against such an enemy, while at the same time staying true to our own founding ethics -- ethics such as freedom and equality and privacy and human dignity? Ethics that seem to be one of the main reasons for our enemies' wrath?
These are not new questions. In Federalist 3, John Jay writes the following: "Among the many objects to which wise and free people find it necessary to direct their attention, that of providing for their safety seems to be the first."
Being a country that values such things as freedom, we have, several times, faced the question of how to reconcile that freedom with the first object of governmentsecurity, especially in war time. One-hundred and forty years ago Lincoln asked: "Must a government of necessity be too strong for the liberties of its own people or too weak to maintain its own existence?" The answer to Lincoln's question is now as it was then, a resounding "No."
But now, let us look to what's happened since 9/11again, keeping in mind all the distinctions between that attack and the previous attack on us in 1941. We have not, as Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the great liberal Earl Warren did, established internment camps for over 100,000 U.S. citizens whose only crime was looking like the people we were at war with in another country. Nonetheless, the rhetoric is in some instances more heated about our response to 9/11 than it ever was in the 1940s. So called "conservative libertarians" and liberal libertarians from the spectrum of the American Conservative Union and Bob Barr to the ACLU and John Kerry have at times made this response sound like we live under Mitchell Palmer's Red Scare, or J. Edgar Hooveror, one might say, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Earl Warren.
But we don't. We don't live like that and we don't profile like that. We have given trials to those who claim abuses of our post 9/11 system and as Brad Berensen told me and our radio audience, we have even released prisoners from Guantanamo to our detriment, as we now learn that four of those that we released have re-joined Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
But let's be specific to the Patriot Act. The Patriot Act may be great fund raising fodder for the ACLU. I'm happy to note, however, that the public is not buying into this media and inside-the-Beltway generated crisis. For all of the 2003, Democratic primary attacks on John Ashcroft and the Patriot Act, it is worth notingas George Will recently didthat such attacks have subsided in the wake of the finding that over 60 percent of the public supports the Patriot Act without even knowing all of its details. Not a surprising statistic, given that 99 Senators voted for it. Who, listening to the Democratic primaries, remembers that fact?
Perhaps nothing concentrated the mind on this so much as Bill Clinton's Attorney General, Janet Reno, telling the 9/11 Commission, just a couple of weeks ago that "Everything that's been done in the Patriot Act has been helpful." And just last October, Senator Joseph Biden called the criticism of the Patriot Act "ill-informed and overblown." Not only Joe Biden, Senator Dianne Feinstein said, and I quote again, "I have never had a single abuse of the Patriot Act reported to me." And when she asked the ACLU for examples of violations of civil liberties under the Patriot Act, Senator Feinstein came back and said, "They had none."
So, let me part with some of my fellow conservatives who oppose this act, and stand with Democrats such as Joe Biden, Dianne Feinstein, Janet Reno and most conservatives, and re-endorse the Patriot Act. We are not a Jordan, that engages in torture as a matter of policy; we court martial those who torture on our behalf and we revile the practice. In light of the reports coming out of Abu Ghraib, we are rightfully ashamed and angered.
Daniel Moynihan once said that he was not ashamed to speak on behalf of the United States, a less than perfect country. Senator Moynihan said, "Find me a better one. Do I suppose there are societies which are free of sin? No I don't. Do I think ours is, on balance, and comparably the most hopeful set of human relations the world has ever seen? Yes, I do. Have we done obscene things? Yes, we have. How did our people learn about them? They learned about them on television and in the newspapers."
We use the law, we use the courts, we use the press. They are all sources of protection. And in doing so, we use the Patriot Act as well. The Patriot Act is not only commonsensical, but long overdue given the warnings we had for years before 9/11. We need to reauthorize the Patriot Act next year so we can continue fighting our war on terrorism, both at home and abroad, so that we can disrupt terrorist cells both at home and abroad. And so that we don't, in the words of another great Democrat, Justice Robert Jackson, "let our Bill of Rights become a suicide pact."