"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Monday, March 27, 2006

Lawsuits and Security

The ACLU and several other organizations have brought two well publicized law suits against the Bush administration on the issue of “unauthorized” domestic spying. Of course, none of the plaintiffs can demonstrate that they have been targeted by the surveillance program and the claim that this is domestic spying is not technically accurate since only those conversations with a suspected terrorists outside the United States are considered.

Plaintiffs include a gaggle of left wingers including the Council on American Islamic Relations, Greenpeace, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, a writer for the Nation among others. Their argument is that the present administration is in contravention of the law since the president lost the authority to conduct warrantless surveillance domestically after the passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. The administration counters this claim with the argument that surveillance was authorized with the 2001 congressional resolution allowing for the use of force against al Qaeda.

Lost in the swelter of claims and counterclaims is the context for this litigation. The war on terror has not ended and the threat posed by the terrorists remains real and frightening.

While the president insists all measures must be taken to assure American security, the plaintiffs seem to be asserting that the only threat is the abridgement of the law and the erosion of civil liberties.

On the day the lawsuit was filed, al Manar, Hezballah’s main vehicle for spreading anti-American propaganda asked, “What structure built of gray sandstone in 1792 became a source of all oppressive decisions the world over? The answer: “the White House.”

In May 2004 Sheik Nasrallah said he is prepared for martyrdom. “Let Bush, Powell, Rumsfeld and all those tyrants in Washington hear… there will only be room for great sacrifice, for the call to martyrdom.”

The editor of Egyptian weekly Al Arabi is quoted in Memri as saying, “Anti-Americanism is like music” to his ears. He calls America “a plague” and “an ongoing crime.”

The head of the Sunni religious courts in Lebanon, Sheik Muhammad Kar’an, called America “the garbage of all nations.”

A professor of political science at Notre Dame University in Lebanon, Dr. George Hajjar said, “America is the New Nazism.” He added, “I hope that every patriotic and Islamic Arab will participate in this war, and will shift this war not only to America, but to all corners… wherever America may be.”

Anis al Naggash, who was involved in terrorist attacks in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s, appeared on Al Manar in August 2005. He said, “The U.S. is the enemy of Arabs and Muslims… every person must resist it… if he can resist with weapons, it is his duty, mandated by the Koran. Any cleric with knowledge of Islam must declare jihad against the U.S., England, and their allies.”

As late as this January three would be terrorists were arrested in Italy after vowing to launch an attack in the U.S. that would dwarf 9/11. Curiously with the exception of the Philadelphia Inquirer this story was conspicuously ignored by the U.S. press corps.

Through conversations that were wiretapped, Italian officials heard Algerian terrorists plan to kill tens of thousands of Americans. This story raises two interesting questions: Did the press ignore the story because the report would support President Bush’s use of domestic surveillance and doesn’t this story portend the very frightening scenario that must be thwarted?

There are those in our midst who prefer legal battles against the administration because they fear a loss of civil liberties, but they do not fear, or appear not to fear, radical Islamists intent on their destruction.

Can there be any doubt that if fanatics in various corners of the globe could get their hands on nuclear weapons, they would be used?

Can there be any doubt that radical Islam is intent on causing harm to the United States, its citizens and our allies?

And can there be any doubt that a toxic poison has been set loose worldwide that could have apocalyptic repercussions if we do nothing about it?

President Bush, in fact any future president, has an obligation to take those steps necessary to provide for national security. It is not merely sad, but dangerous that many civil libertarians do not appreciate what is at stake in this global war. If the plaintiffs’ efforts in the forthcoming lawsuits are successful, another weapon in the war against terror will have been rendered nugatory. Is there any wonder about who benefits from such a decision?



Herbert London is president of Hudson Institute and professor emeritus of New York University. He is the author of Decade of Denial (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2001). London maintains a website, www.herblondon.org.

17 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

It does amaze me that all political opposition in the West has coalesced around anything but Islamism itself. The threatening of "rights," the sins of colonialism or capitalism or whatever. Always seeking the least difficult and least threatening way out. Easy to condemn Bush and Blair, who will not put a bounty on your head.

Meanwhile, cars burn nightly in Paris, and decent persons who are Muslims are terrorized by their own Jacobins, from Iraq to Iran to Pakistan to London.

Militant Islamicism (can I be any more specific?), unfortunately, is not a philosophy based on some generic religion, and its holy books are not generic religious texts. Sometimes something is what it is.

That it has not struck the US again in a Twin Towers Redux is not a matter of luck or conincidence. A price has already been paid.

Kathy Hutchins said...

In the face of yesterday's display in the Alexandria courthouse, when Zacarias Moussaoui admitted that he and Richard Reid had prepared to slam a fifth plane into the White House on 9-11-2001, combined with all we know of the judicial and bureaucratic roadblocks that prevented a thorough investigation of Moussaoui, I am baffled that anyone cares what the ACLU thinks about this.

James Elliott said...

“…and the claim that this is domestic spying is not technically accurate since only those conversations with a suspected terrorists outside the United States are considered.”

“Domestic surveillance” refers to the fact that one end of the conversation must needs have been a United States citizen, therefore requiring a warrant under the 1995 revision to the 1978 law. Your contention that the program doesn’t constitute such is just so much semantic parsing.

“The administration counters this claim with the argument that surveillance was authorized with the 2001 congressional resolution allowing for the use of force against al Qaeda.”

The Congressional leadership at the time of the resolution’s passage has flat-out rejected this line of argumentation. Such language was specifically sought by the White House and purposefully omitted from the resolution. To then claim that the resolution inherently authorizes actions it explicitly rejected is not only farcical, it beggars all reason.

“While the president insists all measures must be taken to assure American security, the plaintiffs seem to be asserting that the only threat is the abridgement of the law and the erosion of civil liberties.”

Straw man: The entirety of your refutation past this point appears to rest its thesis on a ground of your own construction. You demonstrate that there are threats to America without proving that such have been denied, let alone that such denials constitute the sum whole of the plaintiffs’ actions. This constitutes another error of reasoning, making three so far.

“As late as this January three would be terrorists were arrested in Italy after vowing to launch an attack in the U.S. that would dwarf 9/11. Curiously with the exception of the Philadelphia Inquirer this story was conspicuously ignored by the U.S. press corps.”

Not only is the second sentence a non sequitur, it also happens to be inaccurate. “Guilt by association,” is, I think, what you’re going for here.

“Through conversations that were wiretapped, Italian officials heard Algerian terrorists plan to kill tens of thousands of Americans. This story raises two interesting questions: Did the press ignore the story because the report would support President Bush’s use of domestic surveillance and doesn’t this story portend the very frightening scenario that must be thwarted?”

You provide further shaky ground for your argument: the “grand media conspiracy theory” is so much bunk. The shakiness becomes more apparent with the next line:

”There are those in our midst who prefer legal battles against the administration because they fear a loss of civil liberties, but they do not fear, or appear not to fear, radical Islamists intent on their destruction.”

We have here further hay with which you stuff your straw man. First, Italy has no law similar to FISA, so the case is not analogous, nor were any involved American citizens. The lawsuit simply doesn’t apply. As for the demonstration that there are still threats to America, this is further fodder to counter an argument that you constructed, not those you wish to refute. No one has argued that communication surveillance should not be used to thwart terrorism. Nor does the lawsuit contend that the government cannot monitor United States citizens’ conversations with persons of interest. It is simply arguing that the administration must abide by a law specifically designed to allow the government to do so with ease and speed while adhering to Constitutional principles.

“And can there be any doubt that a toxic poison has been set loose worldwide that could have apocalyptic repercussions if we do nothing about it?”

This is a false dichotomy. The choices are not action and inaction, violate a law or watch Americans die. As such, this is a hollow rhetorical device without basis in reason or grounding in the realities of the situation upon which you attempt to comment and argue.

“President Bush, in fact any future president, has an obligation to take those steps necessary to provide for national security. It is not merely sad, but dangerous that many civil libertarians do not appreciate what is at stake in this global war. If the plaintiffs’ efforts in the forthcoming lawsuits are successful, another weapon in the war against terror will have been rendered nugatory. Is there any wonder about who benefits from such a decision?”

And here we have the summation of the straw man’s false dichotomy along with a classic device: The liberals are aiding the terrorists! I’d really hoped that we were beyond such useless and utterly baseless polemics. What weapon is lost? If the goal is thwarting terrorist actions, the existing law, by which the lawsuit seeks to have the executive return to adhering to, in no way prohibits such. If, afterwards, the goal is to prosecute apprehended terrorists, there is no guarantee such evidence will become accepted by the courts under existing law; and the executive has already created a system in which vengeful retribution skirts those same laws and courts.

There may indeed by useful and constructive arguments against desiring a return the executive’s adherence to legal limitations on its power. None of them are found here.

Tlaloc said...

"“Domestic surveillance” refers to the fact that one end of the conversation must needs have been a United States citizen, therefore requiring a warrant under the 1995 revision to the 1978 law. Your contention that the program doesn’t constitute such is just so much semantic parsing. "

You're probably wasting your time, JE. The first comment in this post was mine making that point, among others. In fact refuting every aspect of Mr. London's thesis.

Naturally it was deleted. None so blind, as they say.

James Elliott said...

Well, T, I know some posters here have a policy of deleting critical comments that appear first (or within an amorphously defined time frame after first posting). I've got the emails to prove it. Also, it seems that some people here automatically assume that your comments are little more than screeds of personal attacks. Just look at Hunter's reaction to one of your posts on a Beckwith thread. You made a reasonable, non-vitriolic comment, and he made some lame "segregation" reply, implying that you were on the attack.

James Elliott said...

In the face of yesterday's display in the Alexandria courthouse, when Zacarias Moussaoui admitted that he and Richard Reid had prepared to slam a fifth plane into the White House on 9-11-2001, combined with all we know of the judicial and bureaucratic roadblocks that prevented a thorough investigation of Moussaoui, I am baffled that anyone cares what the ACLU thinks about this.

Well, considering that al Qaeda appears to have considered Moussaoui to have been a security risk and wanted little to do with him, there's a very real chance that that whole above argument stands on a rather shaky house of cards.

Tlaloc said...

"Well, T, I know some posters here have a policy of deleting critical comments that appear first (or within an amorphously defined time frame after first posting). I've got the emails to prove it."

Hmm, that is interesting. SO criticism is fine as long as they get a pat on the head first?



"Just look at Hunter's reaction to one of your posts on a Beckwith thread."

I'm inclined to just let that pass. I think Hunter overreacted but I also think he's taking the issue very personally and is more emotional about it than most. I can forgive that.

Tlaloc said...

"Well, considering that al Qaeda appears to have considered Moussaoui to have been a security risk and wanted little to do with him, there's a very real chance that that whole above argument stands on a rather shaky house of cards. "

It is pretty much certain that the Moussaoui confession is bull. Read the time piece on the subject they blow the argument completely out of the water. the guy is a flake who Al Qaeda basically dropped as totally useless and who now enjoys the celbrity of being the 20th hijacker.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Quite so, James. A point-by-point refutation is boorish and boring, and ends discussion rather than engenders it.

I comment on other blogs, and do not presume to match the original author in length and depth. It's quite possible to engage the main thesis with a mercifully brief and pointed rejoinder.

Should a discussion mature, stretching out a bit is certainly in order, but one must give it a chance. To hog the show from the get-go ensures that few will read on to the next comment. Filibusters are not in the spirit of comity.

Tlaloc said...

"and ends discussion rather than engenders it."

When the discussion is one based on numerous fallacies that is sort of the point, Rather than let them fester you lance it, killing the error before it infects others.

Call it a public service. If your argument cannot withstand a point by point critique it shoud never have been made in the first place. That is intellectual rigor.



"It's quite possible to engage the main thesis with a mercifully brief and pointed rejoinder."

Sure, but not as effective, nor as thorough. I don't like to be sloppy when confronting error. Better to be over active than under.



"Should a discussion mature, stretching out a bit is certainly in order, but one must give it a chance."

You have a much greater fondness for errors of judgement apparently. Personally it seems to me we have entirely too much tolerance of fallacies in modern life. That's a good reason discourse is in such a terrible state in this country. If every time a politician boldly lied the media simply called them onit we might have a political system worth a darn. But they don't. They allow the big and little lies, the endless distortions, and the huge freaking fallacies to pass by without any serious attempt to fact check.

James Elliott said...

"It's quite possible to engage the main thesis with a mercifully brief and pointed rejoinder."

That may be true, but I find that 'This post relies on nothing more than numerous straw men and misinterpretations that a professor emeritus wouldn't accept from an undergrad' lacks a certain intellectual je ne sais quoi, however brief.

James Elliott said...

"Quite so, James. A point-by-point refutation is boorish and boring, and ends discussion rather than engenders it."

If you'd prefer "Letters to the Editor" as opposed to conversation, then perhaps you should change the name and mission statement of the blog.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Not at all. Boorishness is not good cheer. Neither is hogging the floor or getting in someone's face.

If you conduct yourself that way, no one will talk with you in real life, or the cyberequivalent.

I have written previously that the Law & Order-style of discourse, proving error on the part of the other rather than establishing a self-standing truth, is inimical to inquiry. The essay form, rather than the violence of rhetorical vivisection, is more conducive to both truth and a good time.

And since we require wit, it's worth noting that brevity is the soul of it.

James Elliott said...

"I have written previously that the Law & Order-style of discourse, proving error on the part of the other rather than establishing a self-standing truth, is inimical to inquiry."

However, if you do not establish the errors contained in another's thoughts or writing, then all your suggestion leaves us with is dueling statements and aphorisms, which is fine if all you are searching for is to provoke others into their own quiet, critical contemplations. Unfortunately, that also encourages people into simply embracing whichever statement "feels" better. While accepting your point (and gentle chastisement) that essay-style (though hopefully not length) commentary is more palatable, I feel that your "free-standing truths" lead to little more than ideological bomb-throwing.

Tlaloc said...

"If you conduct yourself that way, no one will talk with you in real life, or the cyberequivalent."

Ah nut they still hear. And in hearing they still realize they are wrong, even at a very basic primitive level. That's good enough for me. You don't have to talk to me Tom, but I'll go on whispering truths in your ear.

Sweet dreams.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I take a non-dualistic approach to truth, and especially to the search for it. An argument that contains errors and flaws can still hold more truth than an airtight but limited one. And an argument against an argument is not in itself an argument, if you can follow that convolution.

Inquiry is not debate. They have different ends, and means.

connie deady said...

I have many friends who would be interested in learning that NACDL is a left-wing organization.There annual meeting is in Philly this year.

Since about 1/2 my work is in criminal defense I have those deep seated attachment to the Fourth Amendment.

I've yet to see any convincing arguments or proof that what Bush wanted done couldn't be done within the confines of existing law or the Fourth Amendment.

Consider me crazy, but I'm rather attached to rights. Ben Franklin is my hero. His saying that those who would sacrifice essential liberty for security deserves neither is writ on the entryway to the Pennsylvania State Capitol.

Not sure what Tom's point is, but that's not unusual. I didn't realize we had to choose between sacrificing our civil liberties and fighting crazed islamofacists. Somehow saying one is for the Constitution doesn't mean one likes the crazy dudes.