It has been over three years since the horrific terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. After the initial shock, creation of the Homeland Security Department and attention on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Congress has approved an overhaul of the nation’s intelligence apparatus.
The time is right to reassess something that historically has been, and should still be, most precious to Americans: individual liberty. And our assessment comes up wanting.
As several articles elsewhere in today’s Perspective section show, Americans have instinctively ducked for cover after 9/11 — and that’s perfectly understandable. We want our government to better perform its most important function: to protect us from foreign threats.
Several of the 19 terrorist hijackers trained in American flight schools — even right here in our own Valley of the Sun — before turning jetliners into missiles on 9/11, killing nearly 3,000 of our countrymen. Our instinctive reaction, beyond outrage, was to demand that the federal government do more — whatever it takes — to prevent another such horrific attack.
And the government, to its credit, for the most part has obliged — though we can debate whether some of the lavish spending on "homeland security" has really made us more secure. As retired East Valley police officer and Tribune columnist Bill Richardson pointed out on Friday, millions of dollars spent on law enforcement gizmos doesn’t necessarily mean we’re safer.
Just as troubling, government at every level — and especially at the federal level — has retreated under a shroud of secrecy that for the most part has gone unchallenged. And when news reporters dare disclose embarrassing or damning information about what’s going on in the bowels of our increasing reclusive government, judges stand ready to levy stiff fines and even jail terms unless sources are revealed.
Well, it’s time for a wake-up call, not only to judges and government officials, but also to our fellow citizens: This is supposed to be a government of, by and for the people — not the other way around. America’s Founders did not risk their lives, fortunes and honor for cocoon-like security provided by an all-powerful, secretive government. Government was, rather, to protect our individual rights — period. It was to be our servant.
To a disturbing degree, we’ve abdicated our individual sovereignty since 9/11. And it’s time to take stock, and to reclaim it.
Government can and will abuse authority if given the chance. Presidents will even lavish "disaster relief" on populations that don’t really need it in order to court political favor — especially during election cycles.
Freedom-loving Americans should let their congressional representatives know in no uncertain terms that they are not willing to sacrifice their precious liberties on the altar of national security. National security springs from capable intelligence and military organizations, not from autocratic, secretive government that cows ordinary citizens and muzzles the media on which those citizens depend to keep them informed.
The public, for its part, must not mistake aggressive reporting of government malfeasance with disloyalty. A federal news media shield law that prevents retribution against vigilant reporters is overdue.
We need to return to the healthy, traditional American, liberty-valuing view of citizens’ — and the media’s — relationship with government: Citizens as the masters, and media making sure government doesn’t overstep its bounds as the people’s servant.
We’ve strayed dangerously from that ideal.