Taking Liberties: The War on Terror and the Erosion of American Democracy

Taking Liberties: The War on Terror and the Erosion of American Democracy

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by Susan N. Herman
     
 

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In this eye-opening work, the president of the ACLU takes a hard look at the human and social costs of the War on Terror. A decade after 9/11, it is far from clear that the government's hastily adopted antiterrorist tactics—such as the Patriot Act—are keeping us safe, but it is increasingly clear that these emergency measures in fact have the potential to

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Overview

In this eye-opening work, the president of the ACLU takes a hard look at the human and social costs of the War on Terror. A decade after 9/11, it is far from clear that the government's hastily adopted antiterrorist tactics—such as the Patriot Act—are keeping us safe, but it is increasingly clear that these emergency measures in fact have the potential to ravage our lives—and have already done just that to countless Americans.

From the Oregon lawyer falsely suspected of involvement with terrorism in Spain to the former University of Idaho football player arrested on the pretext that he was needed as a "material witness" (though he was never called to testify), this book is filled with unsettling stories of ordinary people caught in the government's dragnet. These are not just isolated mistakes in an otherwise sound program, but demonstrations of what can happen when our constitutional protections against government abuse are abandoned. Whether it's running a chat room, contributing to a charity, or even urging a terrorist group to forego its violent tactics, activities that should be protected by the First Amendment can now lead to prosecution. Blacklists and watchlists keep people grounded at airports and strand American citizens abroad, even though these lists are rife with errors—errors that cannot be challenged. National Security Letters allow the FBI to demand records about innocent people from libraries, financial institutions, and internet service providers without ever going to court. Government databanks now brim with information about every aspect of our private lives, while efforts to mount legal challenges to these measures have been stymied.

Barack Obama, like George W. Bush, relies on secrecy and exaggerated claims of presidential prerogative to keep the courts and Congress from fully examining whether these laws and policies are constitutional, effective, or even counterproductive. Democracy itself is undermined. This book is a wake-up call for all Americans, who remain largely unaware of the post-9/11 surveillance regime's insidious and continuing growth.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Taking Liberties offers a compelling case that the basic constitutional protections most Americans take for granted, including the rights to free speech, a fair trial and due process, as well as freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures, were seriously compromised after 9/11 as a result of the government's well-meaning but ill-conceived efforts to safeguard the country against another attack. . . [P]ersuasively fair and reasonable . . . A valuable contribution to the growing body of literature regarding the War on Terror's impact on our constitutional rights." —Kirkus Reviews

"This smart and passionate book shows how we as Americans - and not our faceless enemies - have the most to lose from the erosion of our civil liberties since 9/11. By showing what has happened to real people, Susan Herman offers the wake-up call we need to regain our perspective and reclaim our values." —Linda Greenhouse

"Taking Liberties is an engrossing read full of heartbreaking stories about how the War on Terror more than made up in zeal what it utterly lacked in logic. In the immediate aftermath, the errors documented here were understandable; ten years out, they are unforgivable. Anyone who cares about civil liberties, believes the War on Terror is making us safer, or even believes the War on Terror is about the War on Terror should read this book." -Barry Friedman, author of The Will of the People

"'If you don't do anything wrong, you don't have anything to worry about.' This phrase is destined to be with us for all time, kept alive by the same people who cheerfully volunteer that they are willing to trade some 'liberty for security.' Susan N. Herman's new book, Taking Liberties: The War on Terror and the Erosion of Democracy, provides a sharp rebuttal to this compliant mind-set that gave the government more power over the rest of us . . . [A] great catalog of personal injustice anecdotes, with story after story of people who don't do anything wrong yet have plenty to worry about-they get deported, imprisoned without charge, tortured . . . In addition to compiling all these outrages in one handy place, Taking Liberties does quite a good job of detailing the mechanics of the laws, policies, and procedures that created this havoc and in most cases made legal redress unattainable." —Reason

"The prosecutions on the basis of 'contribution of expertise' should be of particular professional interest to sociologists." —Contemporary Sociology

Publishers Weekly
When citizens demand accountability in matters of national security, the government usually says: "Just Trust Us." That's not good enough for ACLU president Herman (The Right to a Speedy and Public Trial), who has written a sobering plea for official transparency in the age of terror. Weaving her analysis of constitutional law with humanizing portraits, she argues that ordinary Americans must involve themselves in preserving their own freedoms. Supporting evidence comes from those who have suffered most from the sweeping enforcement of PATRIOT Act provisions, including: an Idaho graduate student who spent 17 months in solitary confinement for serving as webmaster to a suspect site; a librarian in Washington who was asked by the FBI to hand over the name of every patron who had ever checked out a biography of Osama Bin Laden; and an Oregon lawyer whose fingerprints were incorrectly linked to the 2004 bombing of commuter trains in Madrid. Herman argues that these were not unfortunate mistakes, but rather, the inevitable result of a government operating with impunity. As critical of President Obama as she is of the Bush administration, Herman suggests: "Tools as powerful as those in the post-9/11 arsenal are dangerous no matter who wields them." (Oct.)
Kirkus Reviews

A focused, thorough account of the federal government's panicked response to 9/11 and the consequent rollback of our civil liberties.

President of the American Civil Liberties Union since 2008, Brooklyn Law School professor Herman (Terrorism, Government, and Law, 2008, etc.) provides a well-organized look at government incursions on Americans' constitutional rights in the decade following 9/11. Divided into three major sections—"Dragnets and Watchlists," "Surveillance and Secrecy" and "American Democracy"—the book offers a compelling case that the basic constitutional protections most Americans take for granted, including the rights to free speech, a fair trial and due process, as well as freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures, were seriously compromised after 9/11 as a result of the government's well-meaning but ill-conceived efforts to safeguard the country against another attack. Herman's restrained approach to her numerous outrageous examples of governmental intrusiveness serves her well; her prose style is persuasively fair and reasonable. Despite her role as president of one of the country's best-known liberal-leaning advocacy groups, the author is no rigid ideologue. Even after documenting their routine disregard for our civil liberties, she remains eager to credit governmental agencies like the FBI and leaders like President Obama with the best of motives. In Herman's view, the rapid erosion of our most basic rights has less to do with federal agents' hubris and lust for power than it does with their righteous yet misguided desire to keep America safe. Rather than dismissing it as irrelevant, she carefully examines the question of whether any of these problematic measures are actually making us safer (it seems the answer is no).

A valuable contribution to the growing body of literature regarding the War on Terror's impact on our constitutional rights.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780199360826
Publisher:
Oxford University Press, USA
Publication date:
03/03/2014
Pages:
312
Sales rank:
742,775
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.90(d)

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