Monday, February 16, 2009

Effect of "War on Terror" on Civil Rights

An article in Reuter's today called attention to a concern that the "War on Terror" is eroding rights on a worldwide scale. If you've read the news in the past 5 years you've read about this ad nauseum, but it is something important to think about. This article seems to really focus attention on the U.S. as the central reason that these rights are degrading. It points to a report put together by the International Commission of Jurists saying that many countries are pointing to abuses by the U.S. to justify their own abuses. I think that the U.S. should be a symbol and an example of freedom, and I think that it has not been recently, but I don't think that a lot of these countries can fairly use our recent actions to justify abuses they have committed for years.

It's pretty well established at this point that the U.S. engaged in questionable practices in dealing with prisoners apprehended in the "War on Terror." I think it is necessary, now that we are a few years removed from the initial emotions driving the beginning of the fight against terrorism, to objectively assess what we need to do to fight terrorism and, at the same time, preserve civil and human rights. While it is necessary to preserve these rights, it may also be time for people to evaluate the new nature of the fight we are now in, and what it will take to protect people. I think it may be necessary for some rights to change a little bit in order to effectively fight terrorism. We are no longer fighting an enemy similar to forces that are traditionally fielded. Terrorists are acquiring technological abilities and operational capabilities that rival those of nation-states in the past. Technology has created the ability to make weapons of mass destruction (nuclear, chemical, and biological) small enough to be deployed by one person or a small group of people. Proliferation of weapons in general allows small groups of terrorists to pack a big punch if they decide to launch an attack. Terrorists are also gaining more and more ability in the computer field which could puts any number of vital resources at risk. Adding to these abilities are the small size of the groups that terrorists can operate effectively in. You can track movements of large military forces with satelites and other equipment, but terrorists operate in much smaller numbers, and, as I said above, these small groups are able to cause damage on a similar or greater scale than the traditional military unit.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that people should be willing to abdicate all of their fundamental rights. I'm just saying that I think we are going to have to live with the fact that the nature of conflict is changing, and so too must the laws attaching to that conflict. I don't know what sorts of changes we will have to make, but I think we may have to be ready to accept certain intrusions that we don't recognize now.

1 comment:

  1. How much attention should be paid to philisophical war? Specifically, terrorists, by name, use terror to influence how their targets go about their daily existence. Of course its a pretty bare bones generalization but its serves its purpose for discussion here.

    Suppose a terrorist group (T) bombs a nation's (Nation) major subway hub. In response, Nation tightens upsecurity and such. Of course this means subjecting its citizens to some abridgments of their rights.

    Nation has then on the micro level secured its citizen's safety (lets assume Nation has diagnosed how to actually do so). On the macro level, have they really defeated the intention of T? Yes, their safety has been ensured but their rights have still been abridged. In fact, maybe their daily lives have been affected in a similar manner (both the fear of terrorist strikes, but also the way they excersize their rights).

    In that case is the difference then the who and the how? Is it better for Nation to abridge its citizen's rights routinely than to have them threatened by T? Does T sit back and laugh at how they have gotten Nation to do their job for them?

    I actually agree with your final conclusion, I just wonder if the current response to terrorism is the most effective stance on both the macro/philisophic level and the micro/everyday safety level.

    Put that in your pipe and smoke it, mark