The former head of government security agencies and the head of a prominent civil liberties organization agree that national security is an important issue after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but they disagree as to how much civil liberties should be compromised.
Former FBI and CIA Director William Webster and American Civil Liberties Union President Nadine Strossen debated the tensions between national security and personal liberty Sunday afternoon in Campbell Hall, the second activity in the Arthur N. Rupe Distinguished Dialogue Series. The speakers covered a variety of topics ranging from airport security to the USA Patriot Bill, an anti-terrorism bill passed by Congress shortly after Sept. 11.
“The tensions between civil liberties and national security at times of war are fundamental to our society,” said communication professor Daniel Linz, who introduced the speakers.
Strossen said the title of the debate, National Security vs. Personal Liberty, was misleading.
“We will not, and should not, have to choose between national securities and civil liberties,” she said. “You cannot enjoy one without the other.”
Webster said while the two values are not mutually exclusive, they do, at times, compete against each other.
“Security is always seen as too much until the day it’s not enough,” Webster said. “Order protects liberty and liberty protects order.”
While both agreed that increased airport security was good, they disagreed as to other legislation that has been passed after Sept. 11.
Strossen criticized the USA Patriot Bill, legislation that gives the president “sweeping new powers,” and denounced Congress for passing the bill with so little debate.
“The present president has gone too far,” she said.
Although Webster agreed the bill might need to be reevaluated in the future, he defended Congress’ decision because of the emotions of the American public after the attacks and said Congress has oversight committees to safeguard against power abuses.
“After 15 years of working with them I can assure you they take their jobs very seriously,” he said. “Just because legislation was rushed through doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have gotten these things through before.”
Webster praised the president for not acting rashly.
“He did not launch seven ballistic missiles,” Webster said. “He didn’t even launch one.”
Webster criticized the government’s failure with “public diplomacy.”
“We need to work harder at getting our values out to those parts of the world that are most hostile to us,” he said. “You can call it propaganda if you want. I call it public diplomacy.”
Strossen spoke against racial profiling and said it was not an effective method to identify suspects.
“An over-reliance on racial profiling may have inhibited our ability to prevent the Sept. 11 attacks,” she said. “Profiling puts attention on too many innocent people and takes it away from guilty people. We have to look at how people act and not who they are.”
Before Sept. 11, suspects could only be held for 48 hours without being charged with a crime. After the attacks, Congress extended the limit to seven days.
“Nowhere else in the world is there a seven day holding limit to my knowledge,” Webster said.
Strossen was not as supportive.
“Not since the Japanese internment have so many people been held with so little reason,” she said. “Our government should protect not only life, but liberties as well.”