A glaring lack of outrage

In the days following Sept. 11, 2001, no one really knew what to expect next and both the White House and Congress were ready to do whatever might be needed to protect the American people from another terrorist attack.

We now know that Department of Justice lawyers began feverishly crafting new rules governing the interrogation of terrorists and that when these rules were revealed to Democratic and Republican congressional leaders, none of them questioned the need for what the lawyers called “enhanced” interrogation techniques. Congress wanted to know if the methods being contemplated were tough enough.

Meanwhile, Congress was passing the USA Patriot Act to give government the power to keep a closer eye on what was going on both here and abroad in the name of thwarting the next 9/11. The legislation included both necessary changes in laws outmoded by technology and extraordinary requests for new powers by law enforcement officials who knew they could use its provisions not just against terrorists, but more traditional criminals as well.

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In the atmosphere of the day, the concerns of many liberals and conservatives about measures that weakened Americans’ constitutional protections were ignored. What was worse was the willingness of some to characterize these concerns as “unpatriotic” or a sign of a willingness to “coddle” the nation’s enemies.

The late Paul Weyrich and I were among those who believed that while government should have the power needed to protect us, every request for enhanced power should be viewed by the public critically, if only because history teaches that rights once eroded are rarely restored.

When it came time to “reauthorize” many of the most controversial powers included in the Patriot Act, Justice Department officials were dispatched to meet with Paul in an effort to get him to drop his opposition to some of them. Paul called me afterward to tell me that he was told, in effect, that while the powers being sought were indeed extraordinary, he should realize they wouldn’t be abused because “we are the good guys.”

Paul asked what would happen when those powers fell into the hands of those we regard as “the bad guys.” When it happens, he predicted, those powers will be directed against us.

That is exactly what’s happening today. I agreed with much of the mostly liberal criticism of the abuses of power that took place in the name of security during the Bush years, but kept telling my liberal friends that I would be interested in how they would react when the shoe was on the other foot … as it is today.

Their reaction thus far has been, as I feared, far from pretty. A liberal president whom they admire has taken office, and his administration is suggesting that government must “keep a closer eye” on the activities of “right-wing extremists” and those who have served in the military because people who believe in such things as the Second Amendment, the right to life and states’ rights constitute a potential threat to our national security. Janet Napolitano, the president’s Homeland Security chief, has served notice that such folks will be monitored by a government with the power and will to keep a close eye on them.

And it has already begun. Although the administration dismissed the recent “tea parties” as paranoid displays by partisan whiners, the FBI was at the same time dispatching surveillance teams to parse organizers’ backgrounds and get pictures of attendees.

Remember when, under different circumstances, but citing a media and political double standard some years ago, Bob Dole demanded to know “Where’s the outrage?” I know where we shouldn’t bother to look: among those self-appointed protectors of our rights who demanded an end to ideological, ethnic or religious profiling during the Bush years, but have gone strangely and hypocritically silent as Obama’s people begin monitoring and demonizing conservatives who every good liberal knows are the only real threat to our national security.   

Where are the civil libertarians, the guardians of the Constitution, when the groups with which they are historically aligned are the perpetrators of the sort of government action they say they oppose? Freedom of speech, assembly and the right to petition one’s government are rights that must be protected for all, or they will prove meaningless. That’s a lesson liberals have yet to learn.

Perhaps, however, some of them will come to their senses when they realize Muslims may no longer be safe in their mosques. After all, like Catholics, they tend to oppose abortion — and that may make them a national security threat to be more closely monitored by our intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, can be reached at Keeneacu@aol.com.