Civil liberties in the wake of Sept. 11 focus of awards luncheon address

Issue Februray 2004

David Cole
Photo by Roger Farrington
Access to Justice Awards Luncheon keynote speaker David Cole describes the sacrifices of civil liberties the nation faces in its response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.
In an attempt to protect the United States from another terrorist attack, the country has sacrificed much in terms of its principles but gained little in terms of liberties, according to Professor David Cole of the Georgetown University Law Center.

Cole, a volunteer staff attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights and author of the new book "Enemy Aliens," addressed civil liberties in the wake of Sept. 11 as the featured guest speaker for the Access to Justice Awards luncheon on Friday, Jan. 23 during Annual Conference 2004.

Cole has argued cases including Texas v. Johnson and National Endowment for the Arts v. Finley before the U.S. Supreme Court, and defended dozens of immigrants charged with being everything from "national security threats" to "advocates of world communism."

In evaluating what the country has lost in terms of its civil liberties in the name of prevention, Cole said three issues are at stake: equality, fair proceedings and transparency.

The manner in which the government has detained foreign nationals has caused the country to give up on the principle of equality and consistency in the name of developing double standards to recalibrate the balance between liberty and security, Cole said.

Secondly, Cole said, foreign nationals have not been allowed fair proceedings, sacrificing the ability to determine guilt from innocence.

Third, the secrecy with which proceedings against foreign national are taking place - from arrests through trials - is causing the country to sacrifice yet another core value of its judicial system - openness.

"If we give up on the rule of law, we give up on the legitimacy that goes with the rule of law," Cole said.

"We have sacrificed much in terms of principles and gained little in terms of liberties," Cole said. "Part of the solution is not through the preventative detention of thousands of people, not through ethnic profiling … rather it is a commitment to justice, to fairness and to the rule of law."