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

Overview

Since 9/11, the U.S. government has acted in a variety of ways?some obvious, some nearly invisible?to increase its surveillance and detention power over American citizens and residents. While most of us have made our peace with the various new restrictions on our civil liberties after 9/11, we have done it without really understanding what those restrictions are or the extent of their reach. Moreover, we tend to think that if the national security state overreaches, we shouldn't worry?the courts will come to the ...

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

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Overview

Since 9/11, the U.S. government has acted in a variety of ways—some obvious, some nearly invisible—to increase its surveillance and detention power over American citizens and residents. While most of us have made our peace with the various new restrictions on our civil liberties after 9/11, we have done it without really understanding what those restrictions are or the extent of their reach. Moreover, we tend to think that if the national security state overreaches, we shouldn't worry—the courts will come to the rescue and rein it in. In Taking Liberties, Susan Herman explains how this came to be. Beginning in late 2001, the Bush Administration undertook a series of measures, some of which were understandable and valid given the context, to expand federal surveillance authority. Yet as she shows through a series of gripping episodes involving ordinary Americans, they overreached to the point eroding basic constitutional liberties. Herman spells out in vivid detail why all Americans should be worried about the governmental dragnet that has slowly and at times imperceptibly expanded its coverage over the American public. The erosion of civil liberties doesn't just impact immigrants, Americans of Middle Eastern descent, or Guantanamo detainees, but any American who appears to be engaging in provocative political activity. Taking Liberties 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

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.)
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."
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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.

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

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199782543
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 9/30/2011
  • Pages: 296
  • Sales rank: 667,661
  • Product dimensions: 6.38 (w) x 9.56 (h) x 1.03 (d)

Meet the Author

Susan N. Herman became president of the American Civil Liberties Union in 2008 after serving on its national board for twenty years. A constitutional scholar and chaired professor at Brooklyn Law School, she is the co-editor (with Paul Finkelman) of Terrorism, Government, and Law and the author of The Right to a Speedy and Public Trial.

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Table of Contents

Introduction

PART I: DRAGNETS AND WATCHLISTS Chapter 1 The Webmaster and the Football Player The Material Support Dragnet The Football Player The Material Support and Material Witness Dragnets

Chapter 2. "Foreign Terrorist Organizations," Humanitarians,
and the First Amendment The Iranian Democrat Peacemakers and Humanitarians

Chapter 3. Charity at Home The Campaign against Charities Collateral Damage to Freedom of Religion and Association

Chapter 4 Traveling with Terror Watching the Watchlists Security Theater?
The Rights of Others

Chapter 5 Banks and Databanks Financial Institutions as TIPSters Watchlists and the Private Sector Does It Work?
Collecting the Dots Why Should I Care? - Privacy and Democracy

PART II - SURVEILLANCE AND SECRECY

Chapter 6 Gutting the Fourth Amendment The Fourth Amendment and Terrorism
"Foreign" Intelligence Surveillance, Americans, and the Patriot Act Mayfield v. United States Part II The Secret Court and the One-Sided Litigation A Job for Congress and the Courts

Chapter 7 The Patriot Act and Library/Business Records American Librarians Judicial Fumbling Third Party Records and the Fourth Amendment Reconsidering the "Library Provision"

Chapter 8 Gagging the Librarians The Library Connection Other Librarian Tales

Chapter 9 John Doe and the National Security Letter Why National Security Letters?
John Doe and Victor Marrero Loosening the Gag Fourth Amendment Rights for NSL Recipients First Amendment Rights for Internet Users The Inspector General Exposés 2007-2010
National Security Letters, the Fourth Amendment, and Congress

Chapter 10 The President's Surveillance Program In the Halls of the Department of Justice The Rubber Stamp Congress Closing the Courthouse Doors Post-FAA Litigation The Secret Court Strikes Again
"What Else Is It That We Don't Know?"

PART III: RESTORING CHECKS AND BALANCES

Chapter 11 American Democracy - The President, the Congress, and the Courts The View from the Oval Office - From Bush to Obama and Beyond The Sleeping Watchdog Secrecy and the Courts The Eclipse of the Courts

Conclusion Ordinary Americans Restoring Balance

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