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"To Hand Them a Needless Victory"

In an earlier entry, I wrote about the erosion of civil liberties in the United States as a result of the war on terrorism:

[T]he present Administration has asserted its sole right to determine who is an "enemy combatant," whether an American citizen or not, and whether arrested in the United States or not. Once so determined, the Administration asserts that no court should have the ability to review its decision, and that such enemy combatants may be held indefinitely, neither having been brought to trial or even offered access to counsel.
Now the Economist has weighed in on the matter with an editorial, "A needless victory for terror" (subscription only):
It is far from clear... that many of the Bush administration's actions over the past year will be effective or that they would be justified even if they were. The administration has been much too ready to try to evade both the law and the courts, to act in secret, and to resort to indiscriminate means of oversight and investigation. Its claim that it can designate even American citizens as enemy combatants and thereby hold them indefinitely while denying them the right to a trial is particularly worrying. The American constitution is a flexible document which recognises the possibility of grave threats to the republic. It allows for the suspension of habeas corpus. But it does not look kindly on unreasonable searches, secret trials or detention without any trial at all...

If every act of terrorism is met by a tightening of security and a concomitant loss of freedom, governments will be giving terrorists an automatic victory with every new outrage. That is not the way John Ashcroft, the attorney-general, sees it. He argues that “those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty” only aid terrorists. He has things on their head...

Mr Bush may have made a mistake when he chose to call his response to September 11th a “war”. Talk of war conjures up the need for the suspension of normal political life and even of civil liberties. That is bad enough in a war of the conventional kind. But this war, if war it is, is one that may go on for ever. It can certainly never be declared won; terrorism, like poverty, is probably always with us. Awful as it sounds, that may mean learning to live with terror, even as you fight it: to be dominated by a fear of terrorists, to credit them with greater power than they really have, and to tear up your freedoms in the face of their threats is to hand them a needless victory.

While the US government seems content to allow the UK government to make a clear case for action against Iraq, the US media seems content to allow the UK media to make a clear case against the current erosions in our liberties.

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