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Does Curtailing Civil Rights Protect National Security?

Does Curtailing Civil Rights Protect National Security?

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By Dr. Marisa Bryant
Adjunct Faculty, School of Security and Global Studies, American Military University

Immediately after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S. homeland, many Americans were concerned, even fearful, that the federal government was not doing enough to protect the nation from evil people and their evil deeds.

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Many Americans were even willing to forego their civil liberties and rights in the name of securing our homeland. They were willing to accept certain encroachments on established norms and standards to prevent another terrorist attack.

Civil Rights Remain a Topic of Discussion among Homeland Security Professionals

Today, the issue of civil liberties and civil rights remains a topic of discussion among homeland security professionals, especially under the Trump administration. Sadly, if we were to look back in history, we would see that many U.S. government decisions have had regrettable outcomes. So the question is what lessons can we learn from the past that will provide clues to possible outcomes we will undoubtedly face – and possibly regret – after the current administration is gone?

The onset of the 20th century brought about tremendous change to all Americans. The influx of immigrants into the United States created a so-called “melting pot” of new ideologies, cultures and traditions that many Americans were not ready to accept. Discrimination and fearmongering were at an all-time high and many groups – especially anarchists and African Americans – were persecuted, driven from their homes and even killed.

Reacting to bombings and violence across the United States, President Woodrow Wilson’s Attorney General, A. Mitchell Palmer, arrested hundreds of citizens without warrants, all in the name of preventing further terrorist acts.

In his article, Chicago Tribune reporter Ron Grossman described the Palmer Raids by stating, “Those raids [occurred during] a period when morbid fears of subversives targeting the American way of life led government officials to put civil liberties on hold. It was a time of sporadic violence and mass arrests.”

Following Pearl Harbor, FDR Ordered the Internment of Japanese in the US

Twenty years later, after the United States was attacked at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the roundup of all Japanese individuals, mostly on the West Coast. Many of them were actually American citizens. They were forced to sell their homes, businesses, land, and belongings and move into internment camps for the duration of the war – all in the name of public safety and security.

After 9/11, Congress passed the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001, more commonly known as the USA Patriot Act. This act gave law enforcement and other government agencies broad powers they had never had before.

As a result, law enforcement agencies regained authority to track individuals’ internet usage. The Patriot Act also gave the Treasury Department the ability to obtain – without a warrant or without showing probable cause – the bank records and reports of individuals who might be conducting “suspicious activities.”

Current Rollback of Civil Rights Alarms Many Americans and US Allies

Despite those instances, the rollbacks of civil rights and civil liberties under the Trump administration are alarming to many Americans and to our allies abroad. They view the United States as a leader and a stabilizing force in current and emerging democracies.

Today, indefinite detentions of children at the U.S. southern border, warrantless surveillance, and racial, religious, and sexual orientation profiling are at the core of U.S. national security policy.

Under the current administration, we have seen attempted travel bans on Muslims coming into the U.S. and accessing biometrics information on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients. Mass deportations of undocumented individuals are also taking place across the United States.

If these episodes were to take place after a major threat to the American way of life, and if we did away with our laws, values and human rights, could we say we are actually winning the war on terrorism?

Both advocates and opponents of these governmental actions can find vindication and justification for their positions. Perhaps the effects of this current administration’s policies will not be felt until the next administration.

About the Author

Dr. Marisa Bryant is a lifelong learner and educator who has taught in the military and the civilian sectors for over 20 years. Upon retirement from the Marine Corps in 2015, she was hired as the Equal Employment Opportunity Specialist and Disability Program Manager for the Marine Corps Installations Pacific, at Okinawa, Japan.

Dr. Bryant is an adjunct professor at American Military University in the School of Security and Global Studies, where she teaches courses in homeland security. She also serves as Adjunct Faculty at Ashford University, Colorado State University-Global Campus, Upper Iowa University, Claremont Lincoln University, and Walden University, teaching courses in homeland security, emergency management, criminal justice, public administration, and human resource management. Her research interests include studying harassment policies, diversity and inclusion in the workplace, disability rights, and civil liberties and civil rights as they relate to homeland security.

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