Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The "Keeping America Safe" Myth

Let's talk about this idea of "safety."  As you probably have heard by now, there was a recent scare in New York City when the man now identified as 30 year-old Faisal Shahzad, a U.S. citizen originally from Pakistan, parked a dark green SUV in the middle of Times Square with a cargo of goodies in the back that authorities would later call an "amateur" attempt at a car bomb.  Fortunately, authorities were able to put 2 and 2 together just in time to nab Shahzad at JFK today after he had already boarded a plane destined for Dubai. He is currently in custody and cooperating with federal law enforcement.  As a New Yorker who has walked through the intersection of 45th & Broadway more times than I could possibly count, allow me to disclose my biases up front: if it is determined that this cat did this act of attempted terrorism, then I want him prosecuted and imprisoned to the fullest extent of the law with no mercy.  And if he had any buddies helping him, then the same goes for them as well.  This is America, Jack, and we don't tolerate terrorism.  But another thing we don't do in America is take away the rights of U.S. citizens, no matter how scared we may be for our own safety.

It seems every time we open up the national dialogue on terrorism, the pundits and elected officials on the Left and the Right divide into their separate camps and begin to opine about what will "keep America safe."  Normally, on any given political issue this is pro forma behavior.  Indeed, just today, as one might have expected, the following comments were made by elected officials on the Right:

I think obviously that [mirandizing Shahzad] would be a serious mistake until we at least find out as much information as we have...don't give this guy his Miranda rights until we find out what it's all about” — Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)
“I hope that [Attorney General Eric] Holder did discuss this with the intelligence community. If they believe they got enough from him, how much more should they get? Did they Mirandize him? I know he’s an American citizen but still.” — Rep. Peter King (R-NY)
These comments are arguably tame in comparison to some of the rhetoric advanced by key figures on the Right like Rudy Giuliani, Dick Cheney and daughter Liz Cheney who have consistently argued in favor of military tribunals, Guantanamo Bay, waterboarding and other enhanced interogation techniques as examples of affirmative steps that "keep America safe."  Furthermore, as we can see from the quotes above, these same key figures have also argued against the application of the 6th Amendment right to legal counsel, the 5th Amendment right to be Mirandized, or the Article 1 right to Habeas Corpus for any person accused of terrorism, again, in order to "keep America safe."

Now before I'm accused of pandering to the Left on this issue, let me come to my point which will help explain why I've highlighted the positions taken by those on the Right. The reason why I'm singling out the claims on the Right here is not because the Left has a better strategy to keeping America safe.  We can certainly argue back and forth all day long regarding the merits of each ideology's arguments on this issue.  However, the reason why the Right's argument must receive the #FAIL on the issue of keeping America safe is because the entire concept underlying their argument, that Safety is some sort of exact science achievable by following certain steps, is a fiction.   Stated differently, in order for the Right's argument to be correct, the task of "keeping America safe" would have to be a simple mathematical equation whereby if you do X then that will make us safe, but if you do Y then that won't make us safe.  When dealing with the complex task of "keeping America safe," such certainty simply does not exist.

Over the past 10, 15, even 20+ years, we can cite to numerous attacks and attempted attacks by terrorists that have occurred both off and on American soil that were either aimed at the United States direclty or indirectly through its allies.  The only thing all of those acts have in common besides being depraved inhuman acts of cowardace is the fact that none of the perpetrators stopped to first consider the anti-terrorism policies of United States before committing their crimes.  Therefore, it is foolish for us to think that by trying terrorist suspects in military tribunals vs. federal courts, by having Gitmo or not having Gitmo, or by recognizing Constitutional rights or not, that any one of these policies will somehow make us safe or unsafe.  You know what makes us unsafe?  Crazy wacko's with bombs.  Everything else is a myth.

Once you can come to terms with the fact that nothing you can say or do will stop a determined wacko from putting a bomb in his shoe, in his underwear, or in the back of a truck in the middle of Times Square, then you must concede that whether we choose to respect our own Constitution or not is of no consequence in detouring a person who wants to blow himself up (and take you along with him).  Therefore, we have a question to ask ourselves: since it doesn't matter to them whether we uphold our own Constitution or not, then, on general principle, why not err on the side of upholding it?
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