Since 9/11, Sen. Lindsey Graham has said repeatedly that we must fight the terrorists "over there" so we don't have to fight them "over here." But last week, Graham threw this all out the window. We are now at war everywhere. Forever.
As you may know, many believe that Section 1031 of the National Defense Authorization Act gives the federal government new powers to arrest American citizens without charge. Graham is one of them. According to him, Section 1031 gives the federal government the authority to detain American citizens, "and it designates the world as the battlefield, including the homeland."
Excuse me. The entire world is now a battlefield? Including the homeland?
Recently, there have been serious constitutional questions raised concerning whether our federal government should be able to arrest or assassinate American citizens overseas without charge or trial. This new and largely unchartered legal territory has been troublesome. But arresting or assassinating American citizens here in the United States without trial? Rounding up and holding American citizens indefinitely without charge? What country is this?
This is a new and unprecedented government power that should scare the living hell out of every last American. The basic constitutional principle of protecting individual liberties through due process is not some negotiable piece of historical trivia, as Graham may think. It is the bedrock of Western law dating all the way back to the Magna Carta. Accepting this legislation blindly — as the majority of both parties seem entirely comfortable with — is to surrender the most basic of American liberties. Said Sen. Rand Paul, who fought hard and mostly alone to strip the National Defense Authorization Act of this terrifying provision: "Should we err today and remove some of the most important checks on state power in the name of fighting terrorism, well, then the terrorists have won."
And the terrorists have won. If a primary purpose of terrorism is to induce fear and Americans are willing to give up their most precious freedoms in the name of fighting terrorism, how is this anything less than a monumental victory for our enemies?
Most who support this new power for the federal government — especially Graham — agree that what we call the "war on terror" is a war that will last forever. In this light, this new legislation poses a particular danger, or as Sen. Paul explains: "During war, there has always been a struggle to preserve constitutional liberties. During the Civil War, the right of habeas corpus was suspended ... Fortunately, those actions were reversed after the war."
Paul then notes: "The discussion now to suspend certain rights to due process is especially worrisome, given that we are engaged in a war that appears to have no end. Rights given up now cannot be expected to be returned. So we do well to contemplate the diminishment of due process, knowing that the rights we lose now may never be restored."
A state of permanent war inevitably means permanent loss of liberties. When "protecting our freedoms" is defined by gradually giving them up one by one, Americans are no longer protected or free. This was understood well by our Founding Fathers and a primary reason they wrote the Constitution their descendants are now so eager to discard. Benjamin Franklin believed that when you give up liberty for security you get neither. Meanwhile, James Madison wrote: "Of all the enemies to public liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other ... In war, too, the discretionary power of the executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people."
The great fear in allowing government officials to forego due process is not that it might hurt actual terrorists — for the record, I'm in favor of hurting actual terrorists, badly — but that it might hurt you, me, or any other innocent American in the future. To support giving government this sort of power, you must assume two things: one, government never makes mistakes, and two, government never abuses its power. I know few who believe either.
Let us gauge our decline in our rhetoric. In 1795, James Madison said, "No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare," while last week Lindsey Graham boasted, "When they say 'I want to talk to a lawyer,' we tell them 'Shut up! You don't get a lawyer!"
This isn't protecting America. It's destroying it.
Jack Hunter is the official campaign blogger for GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul, and he co-wrote Rand Paul's The Tea Party Goes to Washington. You can hear Southern Avenger commentaries on The Morning Buzz with Richard Todd on 1250 WTMA.