Monday, June 01, 2009

Abortion Murder and Homeland Security

So, what are we to make of the murder of a Kansas doctor who performs late-term abortions? Many people on my side of the political divide see it as a vindication of the Department of Homeland Security report about the dangers of right-wing extremist terrorists. Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings proposes we respond by taking stronger measures to protect late-term abortion. Megan McArdle at Atlantic sees that as a mere doubling down, an attempt to punish the entire right to live movement for its extremist fringe.

Although I am normally a great admirer of Hilzoy, in this case I disagree with her. My response is that same as my initial response when the DHS report first came out. Great, this is the perfect opportunity for us liberal civil libertarians to form an alliance with the right to curb this monster.
I should be clear here. I have read the DHS report. (It is only ten pages, cover included). Some of the concerns it lists as hot button issues to extremists (such as immigration or gun control) are also important to mainstream conservatives, so I can see how conservatives might see their views being treated as suspect. On the other hand, the report makes quite clear that it is is talking about white supremecists, violent antigovernment groups, Christian Identity, the militia movement and the like. It lists instances of actual violence or plans for violence by such groups. Its section on veterans mentions Timothy McVeigh and skinheads who enlist. All in all, not the sort of company mainstream conservatives should care to be associated with.

At the same time, I don't think conservative fears the DHS might confuse legitimate dissent terrorism are all that silly. The organization's history has not been encouraging. It passed information to the Maryland State Police about the anti-war movement in Maryland and tracked their (peaceful) protests. Groups as wide-ranging as anti-death penalty advocates and advocates for bike lines were caught in their net. Does anyone seriously think this was limited to Maryland? Does anyone think the overall institutional culture at DHS will change any just because it is looking at new targets? There aren't all that many terrorists out there. But the DHS has to do something to justify its existence. And so it spreads.

Forming a civil liberties alliance with conservatives who fear they might be the targets is not new, after all. Following the Oklahoma City bombing, conservatives joined hands with liberal civil libertarians to block many of the expansions in power President Clinton requested. Can we do something similar now? Possible guidelines might include:

  • Set firm guidelines on when surveillance is legitimate. Maryland apparently now requires "reasonable suspicion" of a crime. (I do think, though, that stockpiling a large private arsenal and training private armies should be considered dangerous enough to allow surveillance).
  • Make a strict ban on provocateuring. The use of entrappment as an affirmative defense obviously is not sufficient. No suggesting, or having informants suggest, any crimes the people being surveilled would not otherwise commit.
  • I know it isn't safe to reveal why people are on the no-fly list, but let's at least make some laws about what aren't legitimate reasons. Peaceful expressions of dissent should never be grounds for being on the list. Mandatory procedures should be in place for investigating and removing mistakes, such as people with the same name. Strong mandatory procedures should also be in place for allowing people to have their names removed from the list, permanently.

The list can go on indefinitely. Unfortunately, a general culture of paranoia is easier to create and to undo. More unfortunately still, the Obama Administration shows no real interest in undoing any of it. We civil libertarian disagree with the Right about a lot, like the use of torture and whether Scary Brown People should be locked up forever in a legal black hole regardless of guilt or innocence. But if we can make an alliance on domestic security, at least maybe we can roll back some of the domestic aspects of this monstrosity.

Sigh!! I can dream at least.

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