The war against terrorism will go on indefinitely, President Bush has warned, seeking the enemy around the world. Already American forces are committed to the Philippines, Georgia and Yemen. Iraq may be next. Heavy fighting continues in Afghanistan.
War without end is likely to have — indeed is already having — profound consequences for the American constitutional system. It tends to produce the very thing that the framers of the Constitution most feared: concentrated, unaccountable political power.
The framers sought in three ways to prevent that concentration. They divided power in the federal government, so that one branch could check another if it grew too mighty. They made government accountable to the people, who, in James Madison's words, had “the censorial power . . . over the government.” And, in the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, they guaranteed specific rights like freedom of speech and due process of law.
All three of those constitutional bulwarks against concentrated power are now threatened.
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Civil liberties have often been overridden in times of crisis and war — as in the removal of Japanese-Americans from the West Coast in World War II. Those occasions were followed by regrets and apologies.
But how will we protect civil liberties in a war without end? The attorney general, John Ashcroft, has given his answer. He told Congress in December that “those who scare peace- loving people with phantoms of lost liberty . . . only aid terrorists.” [Privacy Digest]