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Will the Boston Marathon bombings wound civil liberties?

By   /   April 16, 2013  /   News  /   3 Comments

By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON – With that first bomb blast in Boston Monday, the United States’ stable, albeit fragile, sense of security took a terrible beating.

The pandemonium, the scream of sirens, the heartbreaking cries of the badly hurt and dying, the terror. All are again seared into the American consciousness.


RAPID RESPONSE: First Responders react to the devastation of Monday’s bombing at the Boston Marathon. What will this latest apparent act of terrorism mean for U.S. civil liberties? Photo: AP

But the bombs that blew up the Boston Marathon,  may have claimed another victim beyond the three people killed and more than 170 injured:  Basic individual freedoms.

One civil liberties observer believes the Bill of Rights can’t take another assault in the balancing act of securing the homeland and protecting the values that made America the Land of the Free.

Shahid Buttar, executive director of the Northampton, Mass.-based Bill of Rights Defense Committee, asserts the United States in the past decade-plus has passed Benjamin Franklin’s maxim, that, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Buttar fears the latest apparent terrorist attack on U.S. soil will push the country further into a nation that prefers security over fundamental rights.

“We have traded our liberty for the appearance of security, and we now have neither,” he said. “The question is, will we remember the values on which our nation was founded  in order to recover them or will we hurdle down an abyss” of restrictions?

The Bill of Rights Defense Committee was founded nearly 12 years ago to fight the USA Patriot Act, known by its official title, “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism.”

What the Patriot Act did along the way – according to Buttar, fellow critics and a goodly amount of congressional testimony – is gobble up some basic rights of U.S. citizens, in some cases, law-abiding citizens.

The Act received a new lease on life in May 2011, when President Obama signed a four-year extension minutes before its midnight expiration.

“It’s an important tool for us to continue dealing with an ongoing terrorist threat,” Obama said at the time.

The extension, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, continued an erosion of liberties that began in the days following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“Through the enactment of the USA Patriot Act and subsequent executive directives and regulations, essential rights and freedoms that were once guaranteed to all individuals have been substantially degraded,” states the New York Civil Liberties Union in a document titled, “Eroding Liberty: Rights and Freedoms We Have Needlessly Lost in the Name of National Security.”

The document asserts, “Many Americans still do not realize the significance of what we have lost. The resulting expansion of government powers, and the erosion of the 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, 8th and 14th Amendment rights and freedoms have transformed the United States.”

But concepts like due process, freedom of assembly, and unreasonable searches and seizures may at this moment be so much philosophy to loved ones of the dead or damaged in the Boston Marathon bombings. A nation aghast by an apparent fresh act of terrorism on U.S. soil and  politicians fired up to fight may have diminished patience for civil rights for terror suspects.

Even the ACLU seemed to shy away from overt showdowns concerning individual liberties as the smoke and debris settled in and around Boston’s Boylston Street.

Asked about how civil liberties may be affected in Wisconsin, the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin told Wisconsin Reporter it did not have a comment.

The organization referred Wisconsin Reporter to a statement released by the ACLU of Massachusetts, which expressed concern and condolences to the victims and families of the Boston Marathon bombings and thanked the first responders, medical professional and ordinary people who reacted with “extraordinary bravery.” The statement makes an opaque reference to individual rights.

“Especially on Patriots Day, which honors the founding of our nation and its democratic ideals, their courage inspires and reminds us that our nation is strongest when we are led by principles that unite our communities and keep us both safe and free,” the ACLU chapter states.

Lori Getter, spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Department of Emergency Management, said as of Tuesday afternoon she had not heard of any increased security in Wisconsin. The state Homeland Security Council met with federal Department of Homeland Security via conference call Tuesday, for a strategic discussion on intelligence and threats, but Getter said until more information is available, “there isn’t a lot we can do at this point.”

Getter has served in emergency management for 15 years, and she has seen her share of disasters over that time.

Oftentimes, the call goes out for increased security responses, she said.  But the emergency services official said it’s unlikely personal liberty restrictions would be enforced in the wake of the Boston bombings, unless …

“It depends on what we learn from this. I think even after 9/11 there was always this balancing act to keep people safe. To what extent we take those safety measures depends on what (law enforcement authorities) find out, who caused this. Then those types of discussions can take place,” Getter said.

The president, in a briefing Tuesday, said the FBI and assisting agencies will “pursue every effort to get to the bottom of what happened,” and he pledged, “We will remain vigilant.”

“I’ve directed my administration to take appropriate security measures to protect the American people,” Obama said.

Buttar, of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, says he worries just what “appropriate security measures” will mean to personal liberty.

“Are we smart enough to remember our history before it’s too late?” Buttar said.

Contact Kittle at [email protected]


M.D. Kittle is bureau chief of Wisconsin Watchdog and First Amendment Reporter for Watchdog.org. Kittle is a 25-year veteran of print, broadcast and online media. He is the recipient of several awards for journalism excellence from The Associated Press, Inland Press, the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association, and others. He is also a member of Investigative Reporters & Editors. Kittle's extensive series on Wisconsin's unconstitutional John Doe investigations was the basis of a 2014 documentary on Glenn Beck's TheBlaze. His work has been featured in Town Hall, Fox News, NewsMax, and other national publications, and his reporting has been cited by news outlets nationwide. Kittle is a fill-in talk show host on the Jay Weber Show and the Vicki McKenna Show in Milwaukee and Madison.