February 24, 2004,
One of my favorite Dickens's characters is Joe the Fat Boy who went around scaring old ladies and uttering in a hoarse whisper, "I wants to make your flesh creep."
I thought of the Fat Boy as I read the New York Times review of seven books on the state of American civil liberties since 9/11. With one or perhaps two exceptions, the authors, according to the Times reviewer, find American freedoms in a parlous state. In fact, such books now form a growing cottage industry in which warnings about the dire future of American civil liberties are transformed into "virtual reality" happenings in the present.
There has always been and always will be in open democracies like ours especially in the Age of the Suicide Bomber a tension between the condition of individual freedom and the demands of national security. The world should be marveling that in the face of the Trade Center catastrophe civil liberties in the United States are stronger than ever. I challenge the civil liberties Fat Boys to point to a single freedom which has been narrowed for Americans, including the millions of illegal immigrants. What newspaper has been shut down, what TV station has lost its license in the name of national security? What assemblies have been prohibited in the name of the war against terrorism?
Guantanamo is not proof of a diminution of civil liberties in America. Gitmo is an attempt to find a way for dealing with a new and unprecedented form of warfare waged by a stateless enemy. Guantanamo Bay is no more a civil-liberties violation than is the fence Israel is building to keep suicide bombers out of Tel Aviv. (But, of course, the elites are not convinced on that one, either.)
Of course, the ultimate proof of the state of freedom in the U.S. is the fact that books deploring the alleged narrowing of civil liberties and attacking the Bush administration are published without hindrance and will continue to be and the authors will go on to write more books about the curbing of Americans' fundamental rights.
Yet who cannot but wonder that had the Patriot Act been in place on September 11, 2001, the 2,752 victims of terrorism would be alive today and the Twin Towers would still be standing because the 19 hijackers would never have been allowed to board, let alone seize the four airliners?
Arnold Beichman is a Hoover Institution research fellow and author of Anti-American Myths: Their Causes and Consequences.