Question Responses November's question asked if readers...

SATURDAY MAILBOX

November 24, 2001

Question Responses

November's question asked if readers would be willing to compromise their civil rights for better security against terrorist attacks.

Threat to life trumps all our other concerns

While we debate the preservation of rights and freedoms vs. national security, Osama bin Laden and his followers seek the biological, chemical and nuclear weaponry to destroy us.

The attacks of Sept. 11 caught us unprepared. Are we significantly better prepared now?

Passengers armed with potential weapons still manage to slip past airport security. The FBI remains frustrated in its anthrax investigation.

Communities are still struggling to find the money to equip biohazard teams and improve emergency preparedness.

We need time. Time to upgrade emergency communication networks and properly equip emergency personnel and community health departments. Time to review border security, immigration policies and student visas.

We need time to improve the safety of transportation networks and computer networks and to increase protection of chemical and nuclear facilities.

The only currency we have to buy this time is the temporary suspension of certain rights.

We will have to hold terrorist suspects without clear evidence.

We will have to temporarily tolerate invasive surveillance and random searches and expect the media to censor terrorist propaganda and respect national security.

Temporarily suspending certain rights is not giving in to terrorists. It just prevents us from being dead right.

The Bill of Rights is too deeply ingrained in the soul of every American for the suspension of these rights to be anything but temporary. Once the public begins to feel safer and more confident about homeland security, Congress will be pressured to invoke the checks and balances of the Constitution and prioritize civil liberties again.

We can go back and restore rights. We cannot go back and restore life.

Carolyn J. Stepnitz, Conowingo

The new laws giving the government added police powers are needed to protect the lives of innocent people.

New laws must also put a stop to illegal immigrants, who are coming into our country by the thousands each year. This must be stopped.

If the hijacking of four airliners and the murder of more than 3,000 people hasn't convinced civil libertarians of the need for new laws limiting a few of the rights designed for our protection, then these people should go to another country to live.

Walter Boyd, Lutherville

It's hard relinquish a right or submit to a new form of scrutiny. However, the attacks of Sept. 11 made it clear that "the price of liberty is eternal vigilance."

The concept of a national identity card is unacceptable. However, I wouldn't mind random citizenship spot-checks.

Because of the extensive investigations now in progress, we're discovering that our immigration system is broken and millions are residing here illegally. Whether these individuals are overstaying visas or sneaking in, they need to be apprehended and questioned.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) estimates there are more than 8 million of these people in our midst.

I would willingly participate in random, neighborhood-by-neighborhood checks. I am a native-born American, and it would be no problem or inconvenience to show my birth certificate, passport or driver's license to the INS.

To combat terrorism, we must know who belongs here and who doesn't.

Rosalind Ellis, Baltimore

In response to the attacks of Sept. 11, our government has moved to secure additional powers to defend against terrorist attacks. The resulting debate has focused on balancing our rights against the need for protection.

However, a more pertinent question may be: To what extent do the rights of U.S. citizens apply to resident aliens? A reinterpretation of the privileges extended to guests of our nation is certainly in order, particularly in light of the alien status of the Sept. 11 attackers.

The framers of our Constitution certainly indicated that the rights enumerated therein were meant to apply to citizens. Alexander Hamilton, in Federalist No. 84, for instance, notes that the object of a Bill of Rights is to "specify the political privileges of the citizens."

Further, there is precedent for the government revoking the rights even of citizens in wartime. Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus rights during the Civil War; Franklin Roosevelt sent U.S. citizens of Japanese origin to internment camps.

If these actions against citizens could be allowed, how can one argue that our government does not have the right to act against resident aliens without regard to Constitutional rights?

I suggest that our government has a moral duty to protect the lives of its citizens by any means that do not abridge the rights of U.S. citizens.

And by recognizing that noncitizens have no guarantee of rights, we may be able to achieve that duty to protect ourselves without impacting the rights of citizens.

Dan Duff, Elkton

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