David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected], 9/21/01
Americans have derived partial comfort the last several days from tales of heroism displayed in the midst of tragedy: firefighters, rescue workers, chaplains, people of all walks of life rising to the occasion, more than can be named.
One of those tales is that of Flight 93. When I first heard that a plane had crashed Tuesday morning in the countryside outside Pittsburgh, I wondered if perhaps a struggle had taken place that had foiled other hijackers' plans. Evidence has since suggested this was the case, and I choose to believe that passengers on that flight took fateful actions to prevent a larger holocaust, saving lives and making their final moments count for years, even centuries to come.
The living also have fateful decisions to make, decisions that will shape our lives and our world far into the future. Some of those decisions involve the need to respond to violence and to reduce it in the future, some concern our relations with other countries and peoples, others our civil liberties and our way of life here at home.
A broad coalition of organizations has rallied "in defense of freedom," calling for Constitutional rights and American freedoms to be respected, not curtailed in this crisis, for freedom and security to be reconciled rather than placed at odds. One of the planks in the coalition's platform warns, "[w]e should resist the temptation to enact proposals in the mistaken belief that anything that may be called anti-terrorist will necessarily provide greater security."
The warning is not frivolous. In 1996, flowing out of the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, a Congressional anti-terrorism legislative package morphed into the "Effective Death Penalty and Antiterrorism Act." This and related legislation eroded important Constitutional protections in ways that have no bearing on public safety or national security.
Among the most unfortunate provisions of the ultimately enacted law was one which placed tight restrictions on the length of time available to the convicted in which to raise issues of rights violations at trial (habeas corpus). Many defendants were left with little or no time in which to prepare their extremely complex habeas petitions, denying any without the needed time or resources the opportunity to seek redress. Some of those people are innocent, but will never have the opportunity to demonstrate the wrongfulness of their convictions, short of a change in the law or a commutation by a governor or the president, and will remain unjustly incarcerated for much or all of their lives. And this is only one of the bad provisions, unrelated to safety, that were cynically attached to a so-called anti-terrorism bill passed in the wake of an actual act of terrorism.
Many fateful decisions lie ahead of us. All should be made with care, and restraint, as we move through the difficult days ahead. Actions taken in the heat of grief and righteous outrage, without full and deliberate consideration of their possible consequences and regard for our core values, will risk further needless loss of life and of our way of life.
(Visit http://dailynews.yahoo.com/fc/US/Emergency_Information/ for a comprehensive directory on how to contribute to the relief efforts or for emergency contact information. See article four, below, for information on the "In Defense of Freedom" civil liberties coalition.)