Principalities & Powers

Enemies Within and Above

Within a few hours of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon last September, it had become commonplace for even high-ranking government officials and elected leaders to say publicly that Americans would just have to get used to fewer constitutional liberties and personal freedoms than they have traditionally enjoyed. Of course, that was hardly news, though it may have been the first time such leaders actually admitted that our freedoms are dwindling. Americans have been losing their liberties for several generations now and, for the most part, seem entirely content to do so. By the end of the week of September 11, some callers to radio talk shows were saying, quite literally, that they were willing to give up "all our constitutional rights" if only the government could keep them safe from terrorists.

The government seemed ready to oblige. Plans to expand wiretapping and surveillance powers were perhaps understandable, and bans on carrying scissors and razor blades on domestic air flights were not infringements of constitutional rights in any case, but some proposals went well beyond reasonable security measures. A week after the attacks, the Washington Times carried a front-page but none-too-accurate story headlined, "Wartime presidential powers supersede liberties," which argued that the President's declaration of a national emergency gave him authority to "impose censorship...

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