Are Americans threatened more by terrorism or by the war on terror?
Democrats feel imperiled by the war on terror. Who can forget the expressions on the faces of the New York Democratic twosome, Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer, captured on national television, when the two realized that 911 had changed the political environment, thus allowing President Bush to slip off the leash of a closely contested election.
Democrats were characterizing Bush as an illegitimate president chosen over the popular vote by a Republican Supreme Court. The national media, Democratic to the core, had already begun the process of Bush's destruction, but 911 made it impossible for Democrats to continue their assault on President Bush.
Democrats and their media allies are so frustrated that their attack on President Bush was foiled by 911 that they are now alleging that Bush knew about the event in advance and permitted it to happen as a way to save his presidency.
Power mad Democrats aside, there are legitimate reasons why the rest of us are imperiled by the war on terror. The certain effect of panic, fear and war is to erode constitutional protections and civil liberties. This is especially the case when the enemy consists of terrorists in our midst who are believed to have access to weapons of mass destruction.
Unable to differentiate terrorists from non-terrorists, laws are enacted that treat loyal citizens as the enemy. An article in a recent issue of the New England Journal of Medicine (Vol. 346, No. 17) shows this to be the case with the Centers for Disease Control's "State Emergency Health Powers Act."
The provisions in this act come from the assumption that neither physicians nor citizens would cooperate with public health officials in the event of a bioterrorism attack. Consequently, the act grants wide police powers that permit public health officers to override civil liberties.
The act would frustrate public health measures by undermining the public's confidence in health officers. The sweeping police powers suggest that public officials would be unable to provide valid and persuasive reasons for their emergency actions and would need to rely on coercion. By conveying broad immunity to public officials, the act gives them arbitrary power, thus undermining accountability and public trust.
The article concludes that an act that makes citizens the enemy cannot achieve its purpose.
Making citizens the enemy is precisely the approach taken by airport and airline security. The security system is based on the assumption that everyone who flies—including pilots and flight attendants, U.S. Representatives, Senators, Secret Service officers, presidential appointees, federal judges, young mothers with children, elderly people who require assistance to board, and Marine generals awarded the Medal of Honor—is a potential Muslim terrorist who might seize control of the airliner in order to crash it into the White House or other target.
How many frequent flyers have ever seen a Muslim or person from the Middle East selected for a security search? Airport "security" is widely regarded as nothing but an opportunity for immigrant minorities to hassle native-born citizens.
None of the rules make any sense. If an airline passenger rises from his seat within 30 minutes of arriving or departing Reagan National in D.C., the airliner is immediately diverted to another airport. No terrorist would be deterred by such a rule, but innocent passengers can be needlessly inconvenienced by a forgetful elderly person in need of a toilet or blanket from the overhead bin.
Pilots, many of whom are former military officers competent to handle complex multimillion dollar weapons systems, can't be trusted with a pistol in the cockpit. But semi-trained National Guard privates are posted in airports with automatic weapons.
Seasoned travelers have concluded that the real purpose of U.S. airport "security" is to establish a precedent for unreasonable and warrantless searches. By making citizens the enemy, the suspension of civil liberties that is imposed on air travelers can be extended to pedestrians, motorists, and people in their homes and hotel rooms.
Terrorists can endanger some of us, but the war on terror endangers us all.
How much more can the Constitution be diminished before it is completely replaced by arbitrary government power?
Paul Craig Roberts is the author of The Tyranny of Good Intentions : How Prosecutors and Bureaucrats Are Trampling the Constitution in the Name of Justice.
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