“Imbalance of Powers: How Changes to U.S. Law & Policy Since 9/11 Erode Human Rights and Civil Liberties”
which covers the period from September 2002 to March 2003
More than a year has passed since the horrific events of
September 11, 2001.
America has much to mourn. Individual families will mourn the loss of loved ones, and the country, as a national family, will mourn the tragic loss of life. The United States will also grieve another collective loss: the loss of invulnerability – or the idea that America was impervious to this kind of violence.
There is another loss to mourn, however – one that has happened less abruptly and less publicly, but no less profoundly. Since September 11, the United States has lost something essential and defining: some of the cherished principles on which the country is founded have been eroded or disregarded.
Unlike other losses from September 11, this loss did not happen all at once on a clear fall morning. A photograph or video camera cannot convey the damage. These changes have taken place slowly and incrementally, beneath the surface. What’s needed is an x-ray – a way to show how the very bones of U.S. law, policy and practice have shifted.
This report explores these changes: the civic lessons – and civic losses – in America since September 11. Some of the changes were smart, right and inevitable. The country needed to recalibrate the balance between concerns about rights and the needs of public safety. The country was attacked, and the threat was – and is – real. The U.S. government is responsible for ensuring the country's security and must have the tools to do so. But other changes undermined fundamental tenets of our democracy, with no obvious relationship to increased security.
How does a free society debate and decide these issues? The way this has been done to date is not sufficient. In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, government leaders passed laws and adopted an array of policies – swiftly, in the name of unity. Republicans and Democrats put aside differences in a show of common cause. There was a conscious and much-heralded decision to take politics and partisanship out of the debate.
Unfortunately, some of the most important changes have not been debated at all. And debate, in many ways, is what keeps democracies healthy. It ensures that all aspects of an issue are explored. It ensures public education and public participation.
Historically, one of the great strengths of the United States has been its tradition of open political debate and dissent, even within government. As we describe in this report, there have been several recent notable court decisions which have challenged some of these changes, as well as statements from an increasingly vigilant Congress questioning executive branch actions. Those voices reflect well on the American tradition of dissent. We seek with this report to encourage a more robust debate on these issues which are of such importance to the country and to the world.
Michael Posner, Executive Director
September 5, 2002