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Liberties disappearing before our eyes

Why Societies Need Dissent; Cass R. Sunstein; Harvard University Press: 256 pp., $22.95 paper Freedom and the Court: Civil Rights and Liberties in the United States; Henry J. Abraham and Barbara A. Perry; University Press of Kansas: 554 pp., $29.95 paper The Soft Cage: Surveillance in America From Slavery to the War on Terror; Christian Parenti; Basic Books: 273 pp., $24.95 Lost Liberties: Ashcroft and the Assault on Personal Freedom; Edited by Cynthia Brown; The New Press: 320 pp., $17.95 paper Enemy Aliens: Double Standards and Constitutional Freedoms in the War on Terrorism; David Cole; The New Press: 256 pp., $24.95 The War on Our Freedoms; Civil Liberties in an Age of Terrorism; Edited by Richard C. Leone and Greg Anrig, Jr.; PublicAffairs: 320 pp., $15 paper The War on the Bill of Rights -- and the Gathering Resistance; Nat Hentoff; Seven Stories Press: 176 pp., $26.95

September 21, 2003|John W. Dean | John W. Dean is a former Nixon White House counsel, a Findlaw.com columnist and the author of several books, including a forthcoming biography of Warren G. Harding.

If you don't believe that America's war on terrorism threatens your freedoms, delving into any one of these books will change your mind as well as advise you of the rights and liberties that are in true jeopardy. This collection of new works, which address the effect of the war on terrorism on civil liberties, contains one remarkably consistent theme: The federal government has overreacted to the terrorism threat and, in doing so, has traded freedoms of all Americans for an illusion of security. This reality is supported by overwhelming evidence. My hope is to provide at least a whiff of what will be found in each work while winnowing the list for those who want to better understand the situation.

Terrorism, by definition, is an effort to terrify, frighten and intimidate. Terrorists can't vanquish their enemies, only hurt them, so they deliver their hurtful messages of hate through violent attacks against innocent people. As horrible as terrorism can be, it must be understood in context. Compared with the policy of mutually assured destruction of the Cold War (with its inherent potential of annihilating humankind), national security experts will tell you, privately, that terrorism's threat to Americans appears to fall somewhere between that of killer bees (which scare people but take very few lives) and drunken drivers (who frighten very few people while killing 17,000 annually).

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday October 07, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 84 words Type of Material: Correction
Book Review -- A review of books on civil liberties ("Liberties Disappearing Before Our Eyes," Sept. 21) misquoted former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani as saying: "Everyone faces much greater risk every single day to their life, to their health, to their safety from terrorism." The quote should have said, "Everyone faces much greater risk every day to their life, to their health, to their safety than terrorism, so we should be able to move through this with courage and a sense of perspective."
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday October 12, 2003 Home Edition Book Review Part R Page 14 Features Desk 2 inches; 82 words Type of Material: Correction
Giuliani on terrorism -- A Sept. 21 review of books on civil liberties misquoted former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani as saying that "everyone faces much greater risk every single day to their life, to their health, to their safety from terrorism." The quote should have been: "[E]veryone faces much greater risk every day to their life, to their health, to their safety, than terrorism, so we should be able to move through this with courage and a sense of perspective."

Former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who experienced the horrors of terrorism firsthand on Sept. 11, 2001, says, "Everyone faces much greater risk every single day to their life, to their health, to their safety from terrorism." Giuliani has terrorism in perspective. Reading this collection of authors who have been monitoring our response to terrorism, makes it clear that President Bush has a very different perspective. Although he is aware of the likely dangers, he keeps pushing worst-case scenarios for his own political agenda.

Bush has made terrorism his raison d'etre, as he shamelessly and endlessly exploits it, actually using its threat to govern. More specifically, he is using terrorism to "manufacture consent," to borrow newspaper columnist Walter Lippmann's phrase. Noam Chomsky explains that consent is manufactured because democratic governments cannot coerce people, yet some democratic leaders want to control (rather than lead) the "bewildered herd," as Lippmann called the public, and they seek to do so by influencing how people think. As the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon have shown, nothing manufactures consent better than fear. With a few qualms, people are giving up basic rights and liberties.

Daytona Beach News-Journal editorial writer Pierre Tristam recently surveyed the effect of Bush's antiterrorism policies on the nation's civil liberties, nicely framing this landscape with "an anthology of retro qualifiers," observing: "The USA Patriot Act is homage to George Orwell. The Department of Homeland Security is Franz Kafka's newest castle. The Department of Justice is run by a dangerously sober Elmer Gantry. Guantanamo Bay is a tropical one-stop of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's Siberian gulag. And whatever goes on in the White House is a cross between Dr. Strangelove and 'Groundhog Day.' "

When reading this collection of books, filled with Orwellian-Kafkaesque-Gantryish-Solzhenitsynesque implications, I could not but think of Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft's early efforts to stifle such thoughtful analysis. Addressing those he knew would not be cowed as part of the bewildered herd, Ashcroft warned: "To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, your tactics only aid terrorists, for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve." Fortunately, such new McCarthyism does not intimidate these authors, editors and publishers, who have no interest in phantoms, only facts.

"Why Societies Need Dissent," the latest work of Cass R. Sunstein, a University of Chicago professor of law and political science, shows that demands for lock-step conformity are wrong and uninformed thinking. Sunstein's important new study is filled with empirical evidence of the significance of opposition, found in his compelling explanations of the need for, and benefits of, disagreement. Sunstein reveals that, in fact, the influence of dissenters is for the better, be it with courts, juries, corporate boardrooms, churches, sports teams, student organizations or faculties, not to mention "the White House, Congress and the Supreme Court ... during times of both war and peace."

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