What Price Security? as America Vows 'Never Again,' It Is Launching a Series of Antiterrorism Measures-From Ethnic Profiling to Snooping through Your Personal E-Mail

Newsweek, October 1, 2001 | Go to article overview

What Price Security? as America Vows 'Never Again,' It Is Launching a Series of Antiterrorism Measures-From Ethnic Profiling to Snooping through Your Personal E-Mail


Here is why profiling is so alluring: of the suspected skyjackers responsible for upwards of 6,000 deaths on Sept. 11, 19 out of 19 were Arab. And here is why profiling is anathema to a just society: more than 3 million Arab-Americans live in the United States. Even if the government's worst fears are correct and 50 members of terror cells remain at large, that means that more than 99.99 percent of Arab-Americans are no more connected to terrorism than is the dowager whose ancestors arrived on the Mayflower.

And yet... Last week in Minneapolis, Northwest Airlines officials hauled three Arab-Americans off a flight to Salt Lake City when other passengers refused to fly with them; the men were grilled and allowed to board a later flight. In Trenton, N.J., a nervous driver called authorities when two "suspicious" men speaking "little English" got on his bus; the police held the men at gunpoint before releasing them. Such profiling, which critics say makes a mockery of the constitutional notion of equal protection, is only one of the challenges to civil liberties emerging in the wake of the terrorism attacks. From cops to lawmakers to ordinary citizens, Americans seem more willing to sacrifice civil liberties on the altar of security than we have been at any time since President Lincoln suspended the right of habeas corpus during the Civil War or President Roosevelt rounded up 110,000 Japanese-Americans for preventive detention after Pearl Harbor. The United States, vowed Attorney General John Ashcroft, will "use every legal means at our disposal to prevent further terrorist activity."

In an executive action requiring no congressional approval, the Bush administration is quickly expanding what "legal means" includes. Last week it gave the Immigration and Naturalization Service the power to detain immigrants suspected of crimes, and to hold them indefinitely during an "emergency or other extraordinary circumstance." Before this, the government had had 24 hours to charge immigrants with a crime or visa violation or release them. The administration also requested expanded surveillance authority to tap phones, obtain voice-mail messages, monitor computers and obtain customers' credit-card information from Internet providers with minimal judicial oversight. To coordinate antiterrorism efforts, the president last week created the cabinet-level Office of Homeland Security, to be headed by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge.

Although Ashcroft promised to "do everything we can to harmonize the constitutional rights of individuals" with the new security push, the civil liberties of nonnaturalized immigrants are in the cross hairs. The 1996 Antiterrorism Act, passed after the Oklahoma City bombing, authorized a new INS court to conduct deportation proceedings against aliens suspected of terrorism. The accused have no right to be informed of the evidence against them. Until Sept. 11, political momentum was building to repeal at least that part of the law: as a candidate, George W. Bush criticized the unfairness of "secret evidence." Last week, however, the administration asked Congress for power to detain and possibly deport terrorism suspects with no evidentiary requirement. It also asked for new powers to detain immigrants on the vague charge of being a risk to national security, and to limit their court appeals. Although civil-liberties advocates call the proposals "unacceptable," as a Senate aide put it, they are drawing support. "It would be nice if we were able to accord extensive due process to noncitizens, but we don't have that luxury right now," says Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies. "More than 5,000 people [sic] were blown up by noncitizens."

Yet detaining large masses of people can backfire, as Britain learned when it put Irish Republican Army suspects into preventive detention in the 1970s. "It can be successful in the short term by taking known terrorists off the street," says Andrew Garfield of the International Centre for Security Analysis in London. …

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What Price Security? as America Vows 'Never Again,' It Is Launching a Series of Antiterrorism Measures-From Ethnic Profiling to Snooping through Your Personal E-Mail
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