LIBRESCO: Rebuilding more than skyscrapers

The Freedom Tower has been in construction since 2006, and will likely take at least two more years to complete. The 9/11 memorial did squeak to completion ahead of the 10th anniversary, but the museum won’t open until next year. These delayed projects sparked frustration, but one post-9/11 project has been much more dangerously prolonged: rebuilding our constitutional civil liberties.

Since 9/11, we’ve been moving backwards. The least-bad initiatives take the form of security theatre: time-wasting, showy measures like shoe screening at airports. They won’t impede a reasonably determined and creative terrorist, but they are disruptive enough to convince civilians that something is being done. Inconvenient and ineffective, but nothing compared to our government’s embrace of criminal acts of torture, warrantless wiretapping, unlimited detention without charge, and entrapment stings. And all of these abuses are exacerbated by the over-use of the “state secrets” defense, which prevents abuses from coming to light and justice from being served.

Most of these abuses began under Bush. But Obama has doubled down on state secrets and let old policies fester. Failing to actively dismantle these policies gives them de facto legitimacy. We must uncover and acknowledge the crimes of the last decade, so we can restore and enforce neglected constitutional principles.

In crucial ways, we’ve fallen behind since the events of 10 years past. But with a renewed commitment to civil liberties, we can make progress in the war on self-inflicted terror: a panic that leads us to choose theater and mistreatment over real security, rooted in liberty.

Leah Libresco is a 2011 graduate of Jonathan Edwards college and a former Staff Columnist for the News.


  • The Anti-Yale

    I’m a rabid civil libertarian, but I’m torn on the airport screening issue. A 747 isn’t a glider, unless you’re over the Hudson River and just took off and have Sully Sullenberger as a pilot.

  • Arafat

    Gosh, tell me it ain’t so. Not Obama too!

    Begs the question: Maybe all this is necessary to protect innocent life from Islamist fanatics?

    Nahhh…can’t be. We live in a puppy-dog world where everyone just wants to hug one another and lick each other’s mouths.
    There could never be another plane hijacking or anything like that. Never!

  • ChrisPag

    Arafat, the more salient point seems to be how ineffective many of these tactics are. I’d be interested to read an analysis on whether Leah is actually right that showy measures are more likely to make people feel like serious work is being done on security.

    I might get you more on the “necessary” point when it come to actions against targeted individuals, but we still don’t seem to have the evidence that the program as structured is working, do we? As in, “through holding people indefinitely without charge, we have saved lives by stopping X attack.” Because if we don’t have that, it mostly amounts to theater in the same way airport security appears to be.

    • River_Tam

      Mr. Pagliarella runs to the aid of Ms. Libresco and suggests that these tactics are ineffective.

      However, he misses the point – the lack of effective terrorist attacks over the past 10 years proves that either these tactics are wildly effective, or else that the terrorists are less intelligent and “creative” than Ms. Libresco gives them credit for.

      Probably some of both, to be honest. But the point is – until proven otherwise, these tactics work. Don’t tear down the fence until we know it’s not keeping any wolves at bay.

      • Jaymin

        Claiming that the lack of domestic terrorist attacks in the last ten years indicates effective counter-terrorism strategies is like saying that the continual upward trend in GDP in the last 3 years proves that we’ve defeated the business cycle.

        • Inigo_Montoya

          ^ this.

        • River_Tam

          Well, it indicates *something*. What would you say it indicates, Jaymin?

      • Leah

        Hey, River.

        I love the Chesterton-fence metaphor considerably more than the next liberal, but my objection to security theatre is rooted in the active harm it does (and I’m not just talking about long lines and delays). If you follow security research blogger Schneier on Security you can see that in most of the TSA tests, the screeners fail. White hat testers can routinely sneak on knives, explosives, etc, even after the post-9/11 and post-7/7 security revamps. The new ‘naked’ screening machines are easy to evade by using rectal or vaginal suppositories for liquid explosives and careful shaping of plastique. The guides on how to evade these screening techniques are readily available online. We’re not looking at highly-effective security; we’re looking at insufficiently motivated or organized terrorists.

        Meanwhile, that inefficient screening process results in an experience of sexual assault for many passengers and a questionable level of radiation exposure for frequent fliers (especially given there aren’t timely checkups to make sure emissions stay within range). I don’t believe the marginal gain in deterrence offsets the short-term harm (in the form of gropings and radiation) or the long-term harm of establishing this kind of State-mandated intrusive search as the ‘new normal.’

        • River_Tam

          I’m aware of Scheneier’s amusing (and horrifying) findings. But if it’s so easy to sneak bombs and knives and terrorist flags through security… why hasn’t it happened? Either what the TSA is doing is more effective than we think, or else there just aren’t any terrorists.

          I’m not willing to gamble that it’s the latter.

          I’m happy to reconsider specifics regarding screening procedures – I personally think that there should be more profiling, and less radiation and less groping involved in the process – but I think deriding taking off shoes (something that is neither rapey nor carcinogenic) is misguided.

          And let’s be fair about the radiation levels – frequent fliers get more radiation from actually flying than they do from going through the scanners. From your own article (and this is from the guy who thinks the TSA is lowballing it!): “Based on his analysis, Rez estimates each scan produces radiation equivalent to 10 to 20 minutes of flight.”