What will it take for people to get worried about our civil liberties?

Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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22 Responses

  1. trizzlor says:

    I hate to burst the bubble, but U.S. citizens are assassinated quite frequently; in fact, we have several agencies specifically trained for it.Report

    • Scott in reply to trizzlor says:


      The cops in the Diallo case were tried in a court of law. Just b/c they were found innocent doesn’t mean there were no legal repercussions.

      As for Anwar al-Awlaki, I hope the gov’t gets him and that folks will stop whining about keeping this country safe.

      As for the journalists killed in 07, they were hanging out with armed insurgents after American troops had been under attack near their location and they didn’t show any sings of being journalists.Report

  2. Jason Kuznicki says:

    You know, this is the third time at the League that someone has complained that I didn’t sufficiently condemn some other civil liberties violation, merely because I am condemning one particularly egregious and recent one. Besides Amadou Diallo, I have been faulted for not denouncing Chinese infanticide, and for not speaking courageously against the firebombing of Dresden.

    I hereby suggest that this be an open thread, in which everyone who wishes may air similar grievances. What else do I need to complain about before I can raise objections to current and pressing civil liberties violations?

    At the end of the thread (if it ever ends), I’ll denounce them all en masse, and then I’ll be free of the lot of you.Report

    • trizzlor in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      @Jason Kuznicki, An airing of grievances is always a good thing, but the problem with this quote is that it treats al-Awlaki as some kind of galvanizing example of staring too long into the abyss, when it’s really nothing of the sort. This subversion of our civil rights is not new, rare, nor discomforting; for if people (those same ones in the title) didn’t much care when an unarmed man was shot 40 times with no legal repercussion, it would be nothing short of offensive for them to be outraged over “the bin Laden of the internet”.Report

      • @trizzlor,

        Diallo was gunned down in 1999. I wasn’t blogging then, but I am sure that if I had been, I would have been outraged and probably made a note of it. If you’re suggesting that I was ignorant of the case, you were mistaken.

        Moreover I am a great admirer of Radley Balko, whom I consider one of the great heroes of our time. His work has been second to none in condemning police misconduct, at least since he took up the beat, and I am basically in agreement with him on everything he’s worked on. (Is that enough to exonerate me, in your eyes?)

        What I don’t follow is why it’s necessary to get all of my (potentially infinite) historical outrage ducks in a row before I am allowed to speak about anything that’s happening currently. Worse, there are clearly differences between the current case and Diallo’s, specifically the degree of premeditation and the pretense, not just to making a difficult judgment call, but to establishing wholly new legal procedures that blatantly violate our constitution, not just as applied, but in any conceivable case.Report

        • trizzlor in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

          @Jason Kuznicki

          My point wasn’t about acknowledging this case, which certainly has some intricacies but about the title explicitly (though I think Greenwald, whom I very much respect, willfully ignores the recruitment side of the free speech argument). I think “the people” have made it quite clear where they stand on civil liberties; and they’ve done so in cases that hit much closer to home and are much less ambiguous than what we’re presented with here. My point is that it’s absurd to claim that this, of all things, must surely be a bridge too far.

          You’re quite right that it’s ludicrous to denounce all of the horrors of the world before you are justified tackle the latest, but I’m dubious of the structure of this argument: another example in a litany of crimes against personal freedom, solved only with the activist epitaph – “are you not outraged yet?!”. Because when it comes down to it, I’m sold! The extremist cleric, the Reuters cameramen, the grandma acting in self-defense against drug-hungry cops, the priest at a gas-station … acting in self-defense against drug-hungry cops – they’re very convincing. But what’s the end-game here? Because we both know the answer to the title of this post.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      @Jason Kuznicki, I would like to request a complaint about the imprisonment of Charles Schenck and Eugene Debs, if that’s cool.Report

      • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Jaybird says:

        @Jaybird, I’d even go one step further and stray into Warren Harding revisionism. Pardoning Debs was a damn hard thing to do, but it was definitely the right call.Report

        • @Jason Kuznicki, I’ve encountered an argument often on the net (although, for the record I’m not sure Trizzler is actually making it) that I call the “silence is deafening” argument.

          I say that molesting priests, for example, should be prosecuted. In response, you say, “You’ve never said anything about Buddhist molesters, and the silence is deafening!” I think the only way to answer it is to hire some sort of press secretary.

          The most amusing (and I wish I’d saved the link) was a video I saw of an “expert” on radical Islam confronting a group of Muslims with the complaint, “You never protest against terrorism- and the silence is deafening!” In response, one says, “Actually, the local mosques staged a public protest against terrorism two weeks ago and a few thousand people were there.” And her response: “Well, why didn’t I know about it?”Report

          • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Rufus F. says:

            @Rufus F.,

            The deafening silence argument is particularly bogus for bloggers, who don’t work full-time at what they do. But I can at least see that it’s an attempt to impute a consistent ideology to someone, rather than to impute an inconsistent one, which seems to be the case when as recently happened I was faulted for not denouncing the firebombing of Dresden.

            So here’s what puzzles me. I’m still fairly new here, and obviously people might still be trying to figure out where I’m coming from. So it’s understandable that they might look for inconsistencies. (Indeed, they should do that even with the more established members of the crew.) But to infer inconsistencies based on long-ago, not-terribly-newsworthy events that I haven’t seen fit to blog about is just bizarre to me. Given two approaches,

            a) He’s obviously a hypocrite because he didn’t mention Amadou Diallo; and

            b) Given his stance here, he was probably outraged by Amadou Diallo too,

            …isn’t (b) the more charitable and parsimonious explanation?Report

  3. Michael Drew says:

    Jeremy Scahill points out on Twitter that this is an entirely voluntary leak by the administration. This could be an entirely quiet and secret matter; under the Bush administration it likely would have been (and may have been). I really don’t get why the assassination authority is necessary here — surely capture is a feasible limitation in the case of U.S. citizens — but moreover what I really don’t get is what is intended to be communicated by the official announcement that this authority has been claimed.Report

    • @Michael Drew, Might I suggest that the announcement is intended to make Obama appear “tough on terror”? Bush never had to make such an announcement, because no one was ever going to argue that he was being too soft on terror. I would suggest that Obama’s just using this announcement to remind everyone that he is in fact an establishment centrist, not some raging leftist or civil libertarian.Report

      • Eric in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        @Mark Thompson, I think you’re quite right. The left isn’t going to criticize Obama over this, because by and large they don’t really care about civil liberties; they were only using Padilla to paint a picture of Bush to rile up their base and possibly cause some moderates to turn against him. The right won’t criticize the move, because they see terrorists of any nationality as an enemy undeserving of anything but swift and painful death.Report

        • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Eric says:


          I’d just prefer that they got trials first. Or even specific charges might be nice. Then, if you want to kill them, I’ll make a magnanimous exception to my usual anti-death penalty stand. Call it a compromise.Report

        • Michael Drew in reply to Eric says:


          Is there a reason that the ranks of civil liberties bloggers and human rights activists who have and will criticize this and other counterterrorism decisions by this president, who also express many other “left” viewpoints don’t constitute “the left” criticizing Obama for this? Greenwald is on the left (whatever he says about it – his views on HCR and other matters including insistence that Barack Obama not John McCain be elected despite reservations make that clear), and while he upbraids other progressives for accepting this, he certainly does not. This undermines the claim the “the left” is silent on these issues. What there really is are lots of people on “the left” criticizing this kind of thing and also criticizing other progressives or others on “the left” for not being sufficiently critical of it. Sure, it’s not uniform (what needs to happen, do we have to hold a convention?), and of course it’s an entirely fair point to make that Obama is not sufficiently criticized by members of his own party for doing the same things (or worse) that Bush did that they did criticize. That’s partisan hypocrisy – very clearly defined. Nancy Pelosi is very partisan, and will not treat equal actions equally by people in her own party. But when you talk about “the left” that’s a very broad category including perhaps readers of this blog and other private citizens. Some of them likely engage in some of the same hypocrisy, but I just think it’s a comforting fiction for yourself to say that “left isn’t going to criticize Obama over this, because by and large they don’t really care about civil liberties.” The left certainly is criticizing Obama for this; there will always be those who remain silent or defend it and so there will be some way for you to assure yourself the criticisms of Bush were politically motivated in all cases, or that “the left” in some other ways has no principles and need not be listened to. But unless you say just what your standard for characterizing the behavior of a group of people defined by nothing more than an ideological predilection that any given person could move in or out of just by changing their unexpressed thoughts, as long as some on the left do what you say they aren’t (and many are), the claim you make is simply arbitrary assertion.Report

          • Eric in reply to Michael Drew says:

            @Michael Drew, Yes, I used a broad generalization of “the left”, just as I used a broad generalization of “the right” (of which I generally consider myself a member). Notable exceptions notwithstanding (many of whom read and write on this blog), I think both sides of the spectrum in American politics are largely statist and generally are really bothered by government power only when it’s doing something they don’t like politically.Report

            • Michael Drew in reply to Eric says:

              @Eric, And that’s entirely fair, but it is very hard in those terms then to define when to say “the left” or “the right” for that matter “is” doing any given thing, or isn’t, because they are the perhaps least uniform, or even corporeal, constructs one could present in politics or social analysis.Report

      • @Mark Thompson,

        Yeah, I get that overall dynamic certainly – didn’t mean to say I didn’t see that as the driving force, only that it seems a preposterously long way to go to make the point, when he’s already gone pretty far and has good personal numbers on the issue. It seems to me there might be something more behind it, but perhaps not. Incidentally, do you think there would have been any prior conceptual discussion of the question of this authorization in the Bush White House? Do you think it materially affects civil liberties to have this authority claimed explicitly versus a scenario in which the action is simply taken without public discussion?Report

  4. JosephFM says:

    Once the number start hittng the thousands, when it’s their friends and collegues and not people they can rationalize as being somehow “other” – in other words,when it’s far too late – that’s when people will care.Report