Civil liberties and counter-terrorism debated in recent convocation

Radhika Garland

Juliette Kayyem’s address “Preserving Liberty in an Age of Terror” performed the difficult feat of simultaneously undermining our nation’s avowed commitment to liberty while also arguing for its preservation.
Kayyem, a former head of national security at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, believes there are situations in which it is appropriate for the National Security Agency to infringe upon civil liberties.
However, she is not supportive of how the Bush Administration has directed the NSA and how it has handled the post-Sept. 11 geo-political atmosphere.
The Bush administration has also overstretched the legal use of Congress’s Authorization for Use of Military Force resolution, intended for the war in Afghanistan, to fight the continuing “War on Terror.”
The growing concern over this terrorist threat has resulted in a decreasingly clear definition of what constitutes civil liberties. According to Kayyem, establishing definitions are central in both rooting out terrorism and preserving freedom.
During the first half of the address, Kayyem identified both psychological and political reasons for obscuring the legal definition of civil liberties. For instance, the coined term following Sept. 11, “War on Terror,” has been used constantly by the Bush administration and the media, continuing well beyond the War in Afghanistan.
In the president’s 2007 State of the Union address alone, “War on Terror” was used more than 20 times. Kayyem said that continued use of this term, specifically the word “war,” justifies anti-liberty policies that serve no purpose in rooting out terrorism.
In a pre-address interview with The Lawrentian prior to the convocation, Kayyem also criticized the terminology used alongside “War on Terror” as generic and unhelpful. In the legal arena, the understanding of civil liberties becomes further obscured, since the administration is operating under several different and sometimes dated resolutions.
First is the AUMF resolution, which has been the legal basis for almost every act the Administration has made in the last five years in the “War on Terror,” including surveillance. The Senate had passed AUMF to allow troops to kill enemy combatants.
Another obscuring factor is the often used “no harm, no foul” defense which protects resolutions that have been passed but never have been used.
Kayyem links these factors to what she calls a “long term threat with no deadline,” or a state of perpetual fear that is likely to justify continued legislation limiting civil liberties.
Yet Kayyem does not view the limitation of the civil liberties of certain people, such as prisoners of war, as always unjustified. She defended the purpose of Guantanamo Bay, citing the discovery of Saddam Hussein’s driver among the inmates. She defended the use of interrogation as being sometimes necessary.
This viewpoint is in opposition to psychological studies made by the Center for Victims of Torture, which puts forth that torture does not necessarily yield reliable information, torture is not necessarily only used on the guilty, and torture does not yield information quickly.
Kayyem maintained that it was more important to look beyond “the thing done” – torture – and look at the “process.” According to her, the lack of discussion about the methods that are allowed during interrogation has hurt security, and moreover, caused undue fear among CIA agents.
For this reason, Kayyem calls for there to be a definition of what constitutes torture.
Throughout the address she shaped the idea that the understanding of civil liberties can be changed in order to root out terrorism. The Bush administration, in her view, could have successfully passed a resolution in Congress that specified the measures that they would use in the effort against terrorism, such as wire-tapping.
Terrorism has necessitated a new way to think about global politics, and the lack of clarity inherent in a policy named the “War on Terror,” according to Kayyem, has made the U.S. less safe.
The address was precluded by Lawrence fellow Jennifer Fitzgerald’s inventive musical performance of her own original work “Incident.” It was written in response to a taped recording of police brutality against a UCLA student of Iranian descent. Her piece incorporated a rapid succession of very high and low chords, and intermittent strumming of the piano strings under the lid with a self-made instrument.
Prior to the convocation, Kayyem spoke to the media at length on her recent appointment to the newly created position of undersecretary of defense in Massachusetts. Since Massachusetts has a large shoreline and is a center of trade, her new duties include monitoring port security, potentially hazardous liquefied natural gas plants, and the spread of the avian flu.
Kayyem was also asked about the current War in Iraq, to which she replied that there was no great solution. If it falls, other Arab countries, such as Iran, will openly control the region.