Although it has been 11 years since 9/11, many Americans are still questioning some of the actions that have taken place in the fight against terrorism. One major concern is whether the war on terror has undermined the U.S. Constitution.
This was the question that two guest debaters were asked to discuss during the Constitution Day Debate on Sept. 21 in Riley 201.
Steven Knott, professor of National Security Affairs at the U.S. Naval War College, and Ofer Raban, associate professor at the University of Oregon Law School, presented their opinions and supporting evidence to a crowd of about 80 attendees.
Raban kicked off the debate, arguing that the war on terror has undermined Americans’ rights and liberties. He pointed to the 4th amendment, the Due Process Clause and the 1st amendment as areas that have been violated by America’s leaders since 9/11.
In the process of the American government’s attempts to recalibrate the balance of things, it has assaulted the civil rights of its people more so than any other time in history, Raban argued.
Raban used the Bush Administration’s secret surveillance program as an example of unreasonable measures.
Raban explained that the Bush Administration did not have permission to spy on millions of Americans, and in December 2005, the New York Times ousted them for it.
However, the Bush Administration argued that it did not violate the 4th amendment, and many Americans couldn’t prove that they were being spied on, so the resulting lawsuit was dismissed on personal grounds.
In fact, the National Security Agency continued operating a data center to house recorded phone calls. And, until 2008, it was in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Raban said.
Even Senator Ron Wyden was quoted as having said Americans would be stunned if they knew how their phone calls were being interpreted, Raban said.
Raban also argued that the Bush Administration ignored the Due Process Clause that says no one will be denied life, liberty or property without ensuring some form of fairness and the 1st amendment.
“Everyone is entitled to a full criminal trial,” Raban said.
However, the Bush Administration often bypassed such procedures if someone was perceived as an enemy combatant.
For instance, political speech is supposed to be protected, even if it shows support to violent organizations. But, many people were punished for political ideas without proof of actually helping violent organizations. Even some animal activists were accused of using terrorist tactics, Raban said.
Knott disagreed with Raban’s position. He recently wrote a book that defends Bush’s actions. He said he thinks Bush and President Obama have acted within the Constitution. He pointed to Article II of the U.S. Constitution for support of his argument.
“In certain unique situations, obedience to written law is not highest in consideration,” Knott said.
Written law is not observed in several historical events, like Abraham Lincoln’s suspension of Habeas Corpus.
“Sometimes you have to amputate a limb to save the whole body…this is the same for political systems,” Knott said.
Knott argued that there are occasions when the president has to act on his own for the greater good.
“9/11 was the pinnacle of a series of attacks in the last five years,” Knott said. “Bush asked, ‘How do we prevent this from happening again?’”
At that point in time, the government was convinced a similar attack would happen again, and it would be worse. There was talk of weapons of mass destruction, Knott said.
Even Obama has continued many of Bush’s methods, Knott added.
“If we are going to rethink the standards of our presidents’ greatness, we should just sandblast Mt. Rushmore and put up more constrained presidents,” Knott said.
Raban rebutted, saying that there is still a question of whether it was justified to violate rights, and people need to distinguish the difference between the war on terror from wars like WWII.
“The war on terror started with 19 lunatics. It’s not the same. There was no foreign military,” Raban said.
“You throw yourself on American opinion. Checks exist in the power of impeachment,” Knott argued.
The Constitution Day Debate was co-sponsored by the PLACE Legacies of War Pilot project and was catered by Ribslayer.