Your Liberty: Demand the liberty we were promised

Phil Gengler
2005-01-28 00:00:00

In the inaugural address for his second term, President Bush used the word 'liberty' 16 times. It was mostly used in connection with the word 'freedom,' which the president claimed we needed to help spread to all people who did not have it.

Naturally, Bush spoke of an America that is wholly dedicated to ensuring freedom and liberty for everyone. If it were not for the fact that the first four years of his leadership amounted to the largest curtailing of liberty and freedom in this country since World War II, his remarks might have more meaning.

In the name of fighting terrorism and keeping America safe, the Bush administration has been a driving force behind laws and policies that effectively treat every person, citizen or otherwise, as a potential terrorist.

Circumventing nearly every legal protection guaranteed by our Constitution, Bush has declared that individuals he decides are 'enemy combatants' must be detained indefinitely, in military prisons, without a trial or even access to a lawyer. More recently, several agencies have investigated funding to detain certain people for life, even though there is no evidence to convict them of even conspiring to commit some wrongful act.

Civil liberties have been eroded for everyday citizens, too. With the USA PATRIOT Act, the government has greatly increased powers to spy on the activities of any citizen—in many cases, with the target unaware, since companies and libraries are legally barred from telling patrons when the government has requested information about them.

Other proposals have come and gone. Former Attorney General John Ashcroft proposed TIPS, which would have encouraged citizens to effectively spy on their neighbors and report any suspicious activity to law enforcement.

The proposed CAPPS II project, canceled last summer, is making a return as Secure Flight. This plan would build a comprehensive database containing all sorts of personal information about airline passengers, to be used to determine the 'risk level' of each passenger.

Some proposals for a national identification card have also called for security checkpoints in America, where citizens would be stopped and required to present their ID. This would presumably be noted in a database, allowing the government to track the movements of individual citizens.

Former Supreme Court justice Louis Brandeis once said, "The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding." The Bush administration's motives for their encroachments of liberty may be well-intentioned—to prevent another terrorist attack on America—but there needs to be a balance between that goal and the liberty that is fundamental to the American freedom we cherish.

It is possible to work to secure this nation without moving towards a totalitarian police state. For the next four years, we need to make it clear that we want to preserve our liberty, and prevent the government from getting a blank check to spy on its citizens. We are not criminals, and we should demand that the government stop treating us like we are.