Jewish World Review Jan. 14, 2003 / 11 Shevat, 5763

Leonard Pitts, Jr.

Leonard Pitts, Jr.
JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

We must pay close attention as corners are cut and rights abridged in our names | War is hell on civil liberties.

And, if you don't believe that, the proof is as near as your history book. Or, increasingly, your newspaper.

In the history book, you'll learn how Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus and defied the Supreme Court while prosecuting the Civil War. And how, during World War II, Franklin Roosevelt sent 110,000 Americans of Japanese heritage to internment camps.

In the paper, you'll learn that the Bush administration is holding indefinitely, without filing charges and without giving him access to counsel, an American citizen captured with Taliban forces in Afghanistan. Last week, a federal appeals court gave its approval to the continuing detention of Yaser Esam Hamdi. Still to be settled is the question of whether the same leeway applies to Jose Padilla, an American arrested in America and currently being held under similar conditions.

If these were normal times, I'd be landing on George Bush like a trampoline right now. But normal times ended when the World Trade Center did.

As such, the waters are much muddier than they once were. One might look to history for instruction, but history offers mixed messages. It sees Lincoln's suspension of the Constitution as a necessary evil from a president whose nation was coming apart. But it regards Roosevelt's decision to ignore the same document as shameful and xenophobic.

So is Bush more likely to go down as the reincarnation of Abe or Frank? Is he guilty of necessary evil or future shame?

What's troubling is that most of us don't seem to care one way or another. One senses no groundswell of concern about any of this - nor, really, anything beyond a gaping ambivalence.

The question does not engage us and that in itself speaks volumes about the way we view the rights accorded us in the Constitution. In normal times, we tend to be amazingly cavalier toward, and ignorant about, these astonishing freedoms we enjoy. And, as has already been established, these times are not normal.

So where civil liberties are concerned, we've written government a blank check. We want security and we're not picky about the cost.

I'm not here to argue that the Bush administration has gone beyond "necessary evil." But based on the lessons of history, it's a question we ought to at least be pondering. Instead, we sit in silence, complacent and complicit, as the government chooses expedience over process. But if the past has taught us nothing else, it has taught us that sometimes expedience is the birthplace of shame. Unfortunately, the lesson seems to have fallen on ears of stone.

Think about it for a moment. I could call the FBI tomorrow and tell them you're involved in terrorist activities, maybe manufacture some evidence against you. And that's it. You're gone. No lawyer, no "one phone call," no Miranda rights, no compulsion for the government to account for your whereabouts or lay out the case against you, no chance to tell your side of the story.

You have been disappeared, as surely as if you lived in North Korea, Cuba or Iraq.

That ought to concern us more than it apparently does.

Extraordinary times require extraordinary measures, yes. We are all desperate to feel safe again, yes. But that's precisely why we the people need to be more vigilant and more skeptical of our government. We must pay close attention as corners are cut and rights abridged in our names.

Not from lack of patriotism or need to be blindly adversarial. Rather, because the citizenry of a democratic nation is the most important check on the potential excesses of government. And because it's in a time of emergency that excess is most likely.

Do we care? From all appearances, we do not.

Sadly enough, we seem to have made our choice. We choose expedience.

And let history take care of itself.

Enjoy this writer's work? Why not sign-up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

Comment on JWR contributor Leonard Pitts, Jr.'s column by clicking here.

01/10/03: This mother wouldn't let us ignore grisly ugliness of racism
12/17/02: Michael Jackson's disappearing act
12/06/02: After affirmative action, what next?
12/03/02: We deserve a break today from McDonald's lawsuits
11/19/02: On question of Megan's Law, information trumps other concerns
11/12/02: Winona, just say, 'I'm sorry'
11/08/02: Your local police, brought to you by Joe's Bar and Grill
11/05/02: A father, a son and an essay
10/29/02: Things like this don't happen
10/22/02: Real monsters look just like women and men
10/18/02: Snoop's new tune rings hollow
10/15/02: A reminder of life's random cruelty
10/08/02: He toils in the name of change because he can't just stand by
10/01/02: Sharpton, crossing swords with the white corporate dragon, needs to learn what the civil rights movement really was about
09/25/02: A skewed sense of compassion
09/18/02: On death and a pop-culture mindset
09/10/02: Inconvenience me, PLEASE!
09/06/02: Latest CBS joke isn't funny
09/03/02: A rewarding life as a working stiff
08/30/02: We infants in men's clothing
08/27/02: Sept. 11 - How much is too much?
08/23/02: Cut it out already, media!
08/20/02: Brace yourself for attacks of the stealth ads
08/16/02: Russia, please, pretty please let the rocker hitch a ride into space
08/12/02: Racial 'colorblindness' is silly
07/30/02: Oh, to be famous
07/19/02: In Pop-Music Thriller, Jacko Takes on Sony
07/09/02: The password is 'frustration'
06/25/02: My Head And Heart Are At Odds - I Can't Watch Video Of Pearl's Beheading
06/21/02: Your kid's going to pay for cheating --- eventually
06/18/02: Stuffy 'correctness' robs races of give and take
06/07/02: A gift of the Masai
06/04/02: Now what? Use your 9/11 pain to combat complacency
05/24/02: Has your life changed since 9/11?
05/19/02: New world disorder is nothing to smile about
05/14/02: White men can jump, so why do black kids come up short in the classroom?
05/03/02: Catholic Church should be ashamed for blaming abuse victims
04/19/02: A reminder of how small the world has become
04/16/02: 100 death-penalty mistakes and counting
04/12/02: Until all the bad guys wear black hats
04/10/02: Connecting with history with hope for future
04/08/02: Just me and the boys: A black father's road trip
03/26/02: It's time to give up fighting the good fight and join the masses
03/22/02: It's not the art, it's the artist who's troubling
03/19/02: Don't ask, don't tell when it comes to police work
03/15/02: Do we have an inalienable right to TV?
03/12/02: What will we learn about ourselves as war toll grows?
03/08/02: Marriage madness --- oh, please!
03/05/02: A risk free life
03/01/02: Pentagon's idea of lying to media was breathtaking' in its stupidity
02/16/02: Will the Afghans forgive the U.S. for the beating of innocents?
02/15/02: In search of manhood, some make a fatal decision
02/08/02: Time for blacks to give the same respect they demand
02/05/02: A question of character and "unlawful combatants"
01/31/02: There's only so much a parent can influence a child
01/29/02: Mike Tyson is incapable of embarrassment
01/25/02: Acts of patriotism or acts of desecration?
01/18/02: Waiting for tears in the rain at Ground Zero
01/15/02: A little cultural respect works both ways
01/11/02: Can blacks be racist?
01/07/02: What price for the priceless?
12/21/01: An intriguing study on race
12/18/01: To err is me
12/14/01: Admit it, folks, If you've ever been 16, you can probably relate to Walker
12/11/01: Blacks-on-blacks poll is a healthy project
12/07/01: The best defense against government excesses
12/05/01: Better hoist caution flag
12/03/01: Martin Luther Ka-CHING!
11/27/01: Beauty reflects an ugly truth
11/22/01: Another reason to be thankful
11/19/01: If only they knew our names
11/12/01: Watching a 'dying' man live
08/01/01: Should a man be put in jail for what he's thinking?
07/27/01: It's your responsibility to invade their privacy
07/20/01: Is optimism for fools?
07/17/01: Everybody should have a white man

© 2002, The Miami Herald