12/30/05 — ‘Protection’: Rights and safety must be balanced

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‘Protection’: Rights and safety must be balanced

No one wants this country to be turned into a “police state.” And we certainly can’t afford to compromise efforts to protect our citizens and great institutions from terrorist attacks.

Are the two concerns incompatible? They shouldnot be.

But from allegations being made by some members of Congress — and many members of the media — President George Bush already has crossed the line between a free society and a police state.

Currently at issue is disclosure that there have been some “communications intercepts” — wiretaps — made by government agencies without court approval.

Defenders of the actions argue that the taped intercepts involved communications between individuals in this country and terrorists in foreign countries, and that urgency precluded getting the warrants.

Congressional hearings are to be held to look more closely at what has been going on in this respect. Let us not be critical of that. The hearings will be closed to the press (i.e. the public) for reasons which should be obvious. (One must wonder about the “security” of information disclosed to members of a big congressional committee and its staff personnel.)

At this point, no one knows what the committee will learn and what action might be taken.

Whatever the outcome, there should be public reassurance that not only will the rights of individual citizens be reasonably protected, but that the safety of all our people will not be compromised.

Should credible intelligence show that individuals or groups in this country might be communicating with each other — or foreign compatriots — regarding potential terrorist activities against our people, at home or abroad, there should be no prohibition to monitoring those conversations.

If the communications are innocent, the “harm” done to personal privacy would be incomparable to the potential devastation that could be incurred should they, in fact, involve plans for terrorist attacks.

There is a difference between carefully controlled eavesdropping, with responsible oversight, and a police state.

In a police state, suspects are seized and tortured into confessions and/or permanently “neutralized.”

Published in Editorials on December 30, 2005 10:20 AM