Lessons Ten Years After

September 24, 2011

David Cole’s article in The New York Review of Books (September 29, 2011) argues that the rule of law in the United States was protected very well against the broadside assault against civil liberties launched by the George W. Bush administration in the wake of the terrorist attacks in 2001.He’s right that we should pause at least to note that, to the surprise of pessimists and cynics, popular and organized support for civil liberties forced the administration to retreat time and again. Many Americans and key government officials as well demonstrated their commitment to our historical values by directly opposing the Executive’s far-flung claims for unitary power.These Americans no less than our soldiers embody the slogan “freedom isn’t free”.The American Civil Liberties Union, among other organizations, became a highly effective vehicle for hundreds of thousands of new members to push back the incipient police state.

Now there is every reason to continue to press the Obama administration to repudiate rather than continue some of the ugly legacies of 9-11, including extra-judicial murders and the suppression of speech and press.The Justice Department should conduct criminal investigations of the previous administration’s leading figures, who have bragged about their torture policy, up to and including Vice-President Cheney.The Senate should approve the President’s nominees for the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, which was one of the key recommendations of the official 9-11 Commission.