Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Chisel of Precedent, Hammer of Fear

Post-game analysis of the Times Square Bomber's failed plot continues, and our leaders are falling over each other to remove what's left of our civil liberties.

On the chopping block today is the 5th Amendment, or specifically, Miranda rights, i.e. the right of US citizen terror suspects to be informed of their rights to remain silent and to an attorney.

Officials claim that this right interferes with public safety, and that terror suspects should be interrogated prior to being informed that they do not have to say anything that would incriminate themselves.

I know those who support suspending Miranda rights mean well. They simply want to learn more intelligence about the terror organizations that suspected terrorists belong to, in order to stop them and protect the American people. I get that.

But this cannot be done. Suspending an un-convicted suspect's rights is unconstitutional and wrong, no matter what you think he has done. This is what America is about, this is why it was founded, so that no man can be denied his rights, including the right to due process and 5th amendment protection.

Some defense hawks believe that people like me are blowing this out of proportion, that a change in Miranda rights requirements hardly makes us a police state.

To this I reply that a police state does not occur overnight. Our police state is occurring by the slow-but-steady chipping away of our liberties, one tiny bit at a time, because we are afraid. This fear is the impetus for giving away our liberties.

This hammer of fear strikes our liberty, but it does not destroy it immediately. It is with the fine chisel of legal precedent that the hammer strikes at our liberty. A new definition of liberty is defined, the chisel of precedent is set, and the hammer of fear strikes, etching out a new shape from our block of liberty.

The piece that is chipped off may be small, and it may be so small that some never notice that it is gone. But the hammer and chisel are not finished. As soon as a terrorist scares more people, the chisel is reset and the fresh fear energizes the hammer yet again. Another chip falls to the floor.

This is the point of terrorism. It is not just to kill innocents, but rather to make the survivors live in fear. Fear that permeates our laws and our agencies, fear that suppresses our freedoms. Fear that changes the way we live. That is the point of terrorism.

In his first inaugural address, FDR said, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." These are the words we must heed, or, as he knew then, our fear will destroy us.

If we allow fear to be our guide, we will be left with a nation that is not worthy of defending.

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