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One of the greatest tragedies ever to strike mankind occurred in the morning hours of September 11, 2001, when terrorists struck America with its own planes and caused the deaths of over 3000 people in a single day. However, despite the massacre that occurred that day, a greater tragedy occurred soon after. On October 1, 2001, America stepped down from its position as a shining beacon of tolerance, freedom, and light. On October 1, 2001, the sacrifice of every American who has ever died defending his or her country was violated and debased. On October 1, 2001, everything that made America great, that made America noble, that made America what it was before that day, was thrown away, as pearls before swine. My friends, on October 1, 2001, the Patriot Act was passed by Congress (Steranko). Now, please, allow me to explain how even, especially, in the light of these troubled times, why, in the debate of rights v. security, rights must reign supreme. Allow me to explain first by analyzing the Patriot Act and what it does, then explain that my position is precisely the position our revered Founding Fathers took, and that to give in, to sacrifice our most sacred rights in order to gain a little more security, is precisely what the terrorists want us to do.
Equipped with the lengthy acronym Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism, the USA PATRIOT Act is almost anything but (THOMAS). Don’t get me wrong – I believe we need to do all that is right and proper to fight terrorism. But we can’t sacrifice our rights for it – and the Patriot Act does just that. In vague language, the Act grants sweeping powers to law enforcement, granting them the powers to fight terrorism (again, vaguely defined) through such methods as searching, without a warrant, e-mail and phone records, as well as personal medical records, as well as granting agencies certain “liberties” when it comes to the detainment and treatment of those suspected of criminal activities (THOMAS). Many argue that they really have nothing to hide, but these people are naively assuming that evidence cannot be planted or, far more likely, used and twisted in ways they never imagined. All that is necessary is a suspicion of terrorist activity, the barest suspicion, and they can keep you as long as they want. Say you went to Israel or some other state in the Middle East for your honeymoon. That’s all they would need. And they would hold you for as long as they wanted, not telling you why, or granting you the fair and speedy trial guaranteed in our Constitution. Also, though it is not in the language of the Act itself, this casual approach to human rights has led to the current debate over whether it is okay to torture terrorist captives, whether we should ignore the Geneva Conventions entirely. This is a debate that should never take place. Nothing justifies the torture of any people, terrorist or not. And, because of the language used in the Patriot Act, because of the circumvention of human rights and the apathy concerning their respect, that debate rages and our government perpetrates the very actions we condemn in our enemies.
Were they alive today, our founding fathers would be appalled at the state America is in. America is not in this state because of a weak leader or bad management from Congress. America is in this state because it abandoned that which was most important to it. It was the rights we suspend to others that our forefathers cried out against so dispassionately in documents like the Declaration of Independence, specifically the right to trial by jury, the right to know what you are being tried for, the right to have a fair and speedy trial, among many others (American Revolution). What is particularly chilling about this is the justification the British gave for doing what they did to our people – they were not British citizens and were terrorists against the Crown (American Revolution). Sound familiar? The exact reason we torture and violate the rights of those we assume to be our enemies is the same reason our rights were violated during the Revolutionary War. What we are doing currently is precisely what the Founding Fathers, and our soldiers, fought against with such zeal and courage that they would instigate and fight in an 8 year war with the greatest super power on earth. By violating these rights as their rights were violated, we are desecrating their sacrifice.
The worst part of these violations of individual rights is that it is exactly what our enemies want. Why do you think the terrorists hate us? They hate our freedoms. They hate our rights. If we sacrifice those, we are doing exactly what they want us to do. It is those rights, those freedoms, that makes America so special, so great. It is this greatness that the terrorists hate, that they fight against. If we give in to their actions, if we give them the fear they want, if we give up our rights, we are doing exactly what they want us to do. When we torture them, we are degrading ourselves to their level, we are destroying everything good and great about America. We must fight them not only with weapons and bombs, but with values, with right, by staying a beacon of right and freedom for the world. Only that can truly destroy terrorism. The moment we sacrifice our rights, the moment we torture the enemy, that’s the moment we’ve lost.
Looking back at our history, looking at our values now, and looking at our enemy, we can only come to one conclusion – the Rights of Man must be held sacred above all else. The war against terrorism is not a war of guns or bombs, but a war of ideals. If we desecrate our ideal or abandon it, we have already lost. Let us always remember the sacrifices of those who have gone before, and that the only way to truly win is to keep what’s most important. Let us all echo the immortal words of the great patriot Patrick Henry, perhaps more important now than ever before, “Give me liberty or give me death!”
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