Debate focuses on approach to national security

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Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the debate has raged on how law enforcement and intelligence agencies must maintain national security while upholding civil liberties.

On Tuesday, Oct. 9, in the Busch Student Center, Nadine Strossen, president of the American Civil Liberties Union, and Josh Filler, former director of the Office of State and Local Government Coordination came to SLU to debate these issues. The debate was sponsored by the Great Issues Committee.

“The reason GIC is hosting the debate is because every American is concerned about their security in this age of terrorism,” said Dan McGinnis, chair of the GIC, “but they aren’t willing to surrender their individual freedoms in the hopes of achieving security.

“We wanted to hear what two of the leading experts on civil liberties and national security had to say about these issues, since they affect every single America[n] dramatically.”

Strossen began the debate with a statement about the ACLU’s position on the issue. She outlined the ACLU’s view of civil liberties with both facts and statistics to demonstrate how she believes the National Security Administration has violated these civil liberties.

Strossen stressed that torture does not help to get critical information from terror suspects.

“Torture is an anti-liberty tactic,” Strossen said. “Those tortured often only give the information to stop the torture. They will give whatever false assumption the interrogator wants.”

Strossen stressed that the best sources of information that the NSA has are community members. She cited a recent case in England where a plot to hijack transatlantic flights was prevented because of information gathered in the community.

To conclude her speech, she quoted a ruling of a federal court judge in Atlanta that said that people’s civil liberties must be protected despite cases of terrorism.

Filler began his opening statement by highlighting the devastation of terrorist attacks over the years on several countries around the world. He praised the Patriot Act for tearing down the wall between law enforcement and intelligence agencies that blocked communications between two vital assets for the war on terror.

When talking about wire taping and its legitimacy, he noted that law enforcement uses it to tap possible mob suspects and terror suspects.

“If it’s OK for Tony Soprano,” Filler said, “It’s OK for Osama bin Ladin.”

Filler further explained that all NSA programs were set up by President George W. Bush with judicial approval. He said that the programs such as library and book store monitoring were important to finding terrorist are a good thing.

Filler, however, did stress the importance of checks and balances when it came to understanding matters of national security.

In rebuttal, Strossen raised the point that the Patriot Act was passed 26 days after Sept. 11, 2001. He also said that most of the members of Congress did not even read the bill and that it was passed purely on emotion. She maintained that coerced confession through the use of torture is wrong.

Filler, in his rebuttal, continued to defend the Patriot Act. He also said that forced confessions work to get the information that will save lives.

The question-and-answer part of the program allowed audience members to raise important questions to the speakers. All the questions were directed to Filler; audience members asked about wire taps, Guantanamo and the war on terror.

Strossen tried to help Filler on some points of the questions, to help take the heat off of him.

She made a statement about not allowing the president full control, which caused members of the audience to cheer and applaud.

In response to a question about foreign policy with the Middle East with regards to terrorism prior to Sept. 11, 2001, he said, “If they’re dead,” Filler said, “they can’t kill us.”

“I wonder how Mr. Filler can draw a conclusion such as ‘if their dead, they can’t kill us’ if he has no ideas of our foreign policy with these communities before 2001,” said Katie Cushwa, a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences.

“It’s ignorant to pass judgment that ends lives without full knowledge of the situation.”

“The debate greatly demonstrates the tendency many have to avoid and/or entirely ignore and opposite views,” said Jimmy Crowley, a senior in the School of Social Work.

“I think the debate provided great insight into such a controversial issue,” saidRobin Lund, a Junior in the Doisy College Health Sciences.

“Both sides provided solid support for their respective beliefs.”