Mike Renzulli


Terrorism, Torture, and Individual Rights

With Congress having approved key elements of the USA PATRIOT Act, not surprisingly, the security/liberty debate has been somewhat re-ignited.
I think, overall, Americans have become too complacent or lackadaisical in the years since September 11, 2001 and the horror of the terrorist attacks that occurred that day has lapsed in many American’s minds. Despite what Rep. Ron Paul says, the reality is that Americans are safer thanks, in large part, to the new powers federal agents have at their disposal. With the new tools given to them by the USA PATRIOT Act, it is easier for law enforcement to profile, track, and intercept terrorists before they conduct acts of violence and destruction.
The powers granted to federal agencies (like the F.B.I.) will not only be used to prevent Islamic terrorism, but can also be used to halt activities on the part of other radical groups too. Extremist groups such as Earth First!, the Animal Liberation Front, Army of God and The Lambs of Christ could be subjected to monitoring as well. Doing so can force anti-abortion and eco-terrorists to think twice about bombing or committing acts of vandalism or violence on medical facilities used for surgeries or research and the people who work for them.
There are still numerous legal safeguards in place as well as internal departmental checks on the part of federal law enforcement agencies to ensure they have the right information on a suspect before agents take action. F.B.I. agents can objectively tell the difference between someone peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights and a person that knowingly supports Islamic terrorists in their cause.
Such was the case when the F.B.I. raided the homes of antiwar activists in Minnesota and Chicago back in September. The individuals subjected to the raids were the result of investigations in which there was evidence of potential material support of terrorist groups involved on the part of specific antiwar group members resulting from travel on their part to Columbia, Lebanon, and then the Gaza Strip.
Prominent libertarians (like former Judge Andrew Napolitano and Future of Freedom Foundation President Jacob Hornberger) and groups (like the ACLU) criticize the usage of military tribunals to prosecute terrorists, enhanced surveillance powers and torture too, respectfully. They essentially state that not only is the USA PATRIOT Act unconstitutional but that one of the best ways to fight terrorism is to not lower our legal and ethical standards. A civilized country, they argue, that casts off acting civilized in times of conflict becomes no better than the enemy.
I distinctly remember while learning about World War II in high school that an unincorporated hamlet named Amagansett, Long Island, New York was one of two landing areas for a group of Nazi German spies. They had false documents, lots of money and were placed in the United States to conduct acts of sabotage (i.e. terrorism).
Not only did a quick-thinking member of the U.S. Coast Guard report their presence upon seeing the Nazi spies arrive at an Amagansett beach on a foggy night during June of 1942 but, fortunately, one of the spies ended up getting cold feet down the line and turned himself and his companions in. Members of both spy cells were quickly arrested, tried in military courts and most were executed soon after being found guilty. Unfortunately, the warnings passed on to the Bush administration prior to the World Trade Center and Pentagon bombings were not heeded and the result was death and destruction on a massive scale.
The U.S.’s last experience with trying terrorists in civilian courts was in 1993 after the first World Trade Center bombing. In addition to needlessly tying up our legal system, if civilian courts are used much of the activities used to monitor and halt terrorists would be public record. This, in turn, would give other wrong-doers the ability to learn from their predecessor's mistakes and information could be available if criminals wanted to retaliate against witnesses or people who testified for the prosecution. Military tribunals are not necessarily subject to public scrutiny, involve less legal procedure, permit more inclusive rules of evidence and, hence, make prosecutions easier.
International standards of warfare (like the ones outlined by the Geneva Convention) apply to combatants who play by the rules of war. The U.S. government is in a precarious situation where it is faced with an enemy that has no regard for human life and does not accept the international rules of battlefield conduct. Terrorists will use any means necessary to conduct acts of violence and destruction up to and including sacrificing their own lives in order to accomplish their aims.
This being the case, not only is the USA PATRIOT Act and military tribunals appropriate methods to prevent acts of terror and prosecute those who carry such acts out, but torture is also a legitimate means of extracting information. While the methods used on enemy combatants may seem heinous, I do not know of anyone who would not resort to some kind of torture on someone who had knowledge of a major terrorist attack and refused to voluntarily disclose when and where it would occur. Especially if it meant the usage of a nuclear device and the lives of family members or friends were at stake.
Don’t get me wrong, individual rights are inalienable and they may not be given or taken away. However, it is a mistake to treat rights as intrinsic. The choice to torture or resort to making it easier for police to do their jobs in order to stop terrorists is not utilitarian. A terrorist has voluntarily chosen to put themselves in a state of war upon countries (like the U.S.) and peaceful citizens. As a result government agents who conduct acts of torture or scrutinize terrorists via warrant-less wiretaps, monitoring bank records or other means of surveillance are doing their job of keeping the peace since terrorists pose a threat to the rights of the innocent.
Terrorists are not combatants in the sense of battlefield conflict and to treat them the same as American citizens not only will make their job easier but is also a perversion of what individual rights are all about. Rights apply only to citizens in terms of trade and peaceful conduct among each other in a social context. As I have said before, those  who do not respect the individual rights of others (such as terrorists) do not deserve to have theirs respected by anyone.
It is unrealistic if not outright madness for the United States government to be bound by rules of warfare conduct or sets of laws that hinder law enforcement from protecting our individual rights while, simultaneously, being expected to combat an enemy that clearly has no regard for human life.
This is the blunt reality Americans (especially libertarians) must face up to, Israel has had to deal with almost since its creation, Barack Obama had to learn upon occupying the Oval Office and that President George W. Bush and members of Congress learned in the shadow of the World Trade Center and Pentagon Bombings on September 11th, 2001

8 Comments in Response to

Comment by Stephanie Eccia
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You approve of spying and torture on terrorists? Who doesn't? That is not what the Patriot Act does. It allows spying and torture of people NOT yet shown to be terrorists. That includes all Americans. The Patriot Act is not anti-terrorist it is anti-American. As the world has seen our government turn against our population America has lost it's status as a representative government of a free people.

Comment by Greg Stellman
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Americans are "safer" because they can be surveyed and tracked? As if we will all be victims of terrorists and none of us are victims of intrusion and abuse by government? As if government "suspect lists" and no-fly lists are never wrong, misused or compromised?  As if Federal raids don't consistently invade and destroy the wrong addresses? As if anyone can tell us how spying on us has ever made us "safe" from anything? You have a queer sense of "safety" and a naive confidence in the integrity of unaccountable secret government activity. Perhaps you need to be be selected for "asset forfeiture" by your perfect faceless and nameless protectors in government  Perhaps that will improve you understanding of the word "safety".

Comment by German Awaykening
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We want that all the Americans, Israelis and English leaving our holy country (Germany) immediately, also we want you to give us back everything you have stolen from us especially our gold, also we want the USraeli president falling to his knees in front of us, the Germans, asking for forgiveness for all the crimes the USraelis have done to us, like killing us and our children by promoting tobacco in Germany thru the Jewish and American tobacco companies, also for "reeducating" us in the way to bring the feminist shit into our great country and destroying the relationships between man and woman in this way, also for promoting abortion and convincing us to kill our own children with unbelievable cruelty, also for manipulating many of us hating ourself by putting us down and throwing dirt on our extraordinary high culture threw your shitty lying propaganda against the Germans and our holy culture. President of USrael fall to your knees and ask for forgiveness, because the English-Israeli-American power- and lying-game-time is over!

Comment by German Victory
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After the Anglo-American-Israeli Empire it totally down - and this will happen soon - than the English controlled New Zealand and Australia should go to Germany, and the US should get divided in parts and go to different countries. Scotland will become independent again from the English Empire and will have a close Union to Germany. But we, the Germans, have to wipe out the shitty bureaucrats and the corrupt international corporations and their evil trader Unions first, so we can and we will be a free country again, like we were in the past. Of course the USraeli occupiers will get kicked out too from Germany, but they will get kicked out from any country anyway.

Comment by German Justice
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I disagree with German Pride. We should not tread the English, American and Israelis in the same way they have treated us, means we should not destroy the English cities and kill millions of English people even when England has committed these war crimes against us, the Germans, in Word War II. Also we should not steal the property from the US-citizen, even when the US did this to us after World War II and we should not put every Israeli into the prison who is denying that they have killed 6 Million Germans in gas chambers, even when they put ever German into the prison who do not believe in their Holocaust ideology. We do not have to make the same shit. We as the Germans have a much higher culture with Goethe, Schiller, Hölderlin, Beethoven, Bach, Albert Schweizer and so on then these spiritual underdeveloped countries and should be more honest, compassionate and have more justice and we should not blame the innocent people in these countries, even when they have done such evil game with us! But yes, we should enforce the Anglo-American-Israeli Empire to pay a reasonable compensation to all the countries they have occupied, means to almost every country in the whole world, including Germany of course.

Comment by German Pride
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Yeah, we will judge all this Anglo-American-Israeli War-Criminals in Nürnberg! And then blame them endless and let them pay endless compensation - means treat them in the same way they have treated us!

Comment by inside job
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By the way, everybody knows: 9/11 was an inside job made in Israel! You can not cheat and trick us anymore!

Comment by German Resistence
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The Anglo-American-Israeli Empire is the enemy (of all the good people around the world) that clearly has no regard for human life. But thank God that this evil empire that is torturing, committing endless war-crimes and mass-murder just for pleasure in the interest of the evil big international corporations and of AIPAC is falling down right now and will loose all the power very soon. Enjoy your downfall and the judgment you will have to face afterwords!

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