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Jurists Confirm Irregular Ideas on Security and Liberty

You’ve seen us write here at Irregular Times in criticism of the idea that security and liberty are incompatible goals that need to be balanced against each other. But who are we to judge on such matters?

We’re not lawyers. We don’t have PhDs in political science or history. We’re just average folks who have read the Constitution, and see that there is no suggestion in that document, the highest law in our nation, that liberty must be constrained in the pursuit of security. On the contrary, what we read in the Constitution is that we can expect to have our liberty respected and protected by our government without exception.

We also have read enough, and thought enough, and experienced enough in our lives to believe that liberty is the best protector of security. We are highly skeptical that any government that claims to be providing security by compromising liberty is actually able to do so. What kind of security is it, after all, that leaves the people it claims to be protecting without any freedom?

But, perhaps you don’t regard us as a credible source. That’s okay. We are Irregular Times after all.

Let us offer you another source with some particular professional credibility in this area, then. Consider the word of the International Commission of Jurists, a group consisting of some of the most capable legal minds in the world. Their Eminent Jurists Panel on Terrorism, Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights has just issued a report entitled Assessing Damage, Urging Action that’s well worth reading. The first full chapter of the report begins with the following statement:

If one were to judge from the public debates, and the stance taken by many governments, there is a tension between upholding human rights or ensuring people’s security in the face of the terrorist threat. It is a basic tenet of this report that any implied dichotomy between securing people’s rights and people’s security is wrong. Upholding human rights is not a matter of being “soft” on terrorism. On the contrary, countering terrorism is itself a human rights objective, since States have a positive obligation to protect people under their jurisdiction against terrorist acts. This positive duty on States requires them to prevent, punish, investigate and redress the harm caused by such acts. At the same time, States must accept that this positive duty to protect applies both to those who may be at risk from terrorism and to those who may be suspected of terrorism. The State has no authority in law to determine that some people do not qualify to have their rights respected.

These words come from a new report, but they don’t represent new ideas. They’re based upon a trust in liberty that is as old as the Bill of Rights. This trust that liberty provides the best security is not some kind of fringe ideology. It’s the traditional American way. Isn’t it time that we get back to that tradition?

President Barack Obama has taken a few steps back toward the tradition of security through liberty through his pledge to close Guantanamo. However, Obama has maintained many of George W. Bush’s reductions of the freedoms promised by the Constitution. If we truly believe that a free state is preferable to a security state, then we need to apply the same pressure to Obama that we have applied to Bush.

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