I participated in a Constitution Day forum sponsored by the ACLU at the University of Oklahoma school of law this evening. The theme of the forum was "One Nation Under Surveillance." Here is the text of my opening remarks:
Our Nation is under surveillance for fear of terrorists. Terrorists are people who have given up hope of finding justice in this world. Their aim is either to change the world or destroy it. In their eyes, they’ve got nothing to lose.
The fact that some people have nothing to lose, while the rest of us have a lot to lose, is probably what frightens us most. Nihilistic despair in a world with weapons of mass destruction threatens everyone with annihilation. But, rather than doing something to restore the spirit and dignity of those who have no hope, we keep ignoring their grievances, compounding the injustices that lead them to despair, and then we develop ever more sophisticated technology to save ourselves from their murderous wrath.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not opposed to technology. Some technology can help. But better technology is not going to solve the problem of terrorism and it will lull us into a false sense of security.
Technology cannot save us from ourselves. The computers we build to preserve our freedom threaten to enslave us. The information we store in databases, ostensibly to protect us -- threatens us with real harm.
Fallible human being will always be making the decisions about who poses a threat to society, and who has access to information, and how that information will be interpreted and used. After Hurricane Katrina, who needs to be reminded that blind faith in human institutions is always misplaced and the people leading them often prove incompetent, unreliable or simply overwhelmed? And worse, over the last six years we have seen politicians stretch the trust of a freedom-loving people to the breaking point by repeatedly arrogating powers that are devoid of constitutional checks and balances.
We must especially beware that the liberties we have suspended for fear of terrorists could easily be forfeited for generations to come. America will never be the same if we retreat from two and a quarter centuries of hard won civil liberties. Never before have we settled for being the land of the safe and the home of the secure. We’ve always had the courage to strive to be the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Instead of the frightful overreaction we have witnessed since September 11th, our nation would do better if it would respond to terrorism the way the people of Oklahoma responded to domestic terrorism when he Murrah Federal Building was bombed. That bomb did not prompt us to surrender our civil rights or to infringe upon the rights of others. Unlike our federal government:
We did not suspend the constitution.
We did not send the police out to round-up, lock-up or expel all the foreigners and immigrants in town.
We did not hold suspects indefinitely without access to the courts or to counsel.
We did not tape conversations between suspects and their lawyers.
We did not suspend the laws requiring probable cause for wiretaps or search warrants.
We did not expand the role of the military or private mercenary armies in domestic law enforcement.
We did not torture suspects to obtain information.
We did not create a military tribunal to try and execute suspects without applying the Constitution or state and federal laws.
We did not endorse assassination as an alternative to capture.
And, we did not create a massive computer system to keep tabs on every aspect of our citizen’s daily lives.
What we did was to rescue survivors, clean-up the wreckage, rebuild our city and bring the criminals to justice. The bombing of the Murrah Federal Building did not destroy the freedom-loving, risk-taking, self-sacrificing spirit of the people of Oklahoma.
Neither should the criminal acts of a few terrorists destroy the freedom-loving, risk-taking, self-sacrificing spirit of our nation.
Here's a link to the KGOU broadcast of the forum. My speech is midway through the first MP3.