Panelists discuss government trust in light of terrorism bill

Amy Hackbarth

University law professor john powell said he doesn’t trust the government. He also said trust isn’t necessary.

“I don’t think our role as the fourth branch of the government-being the public-is to trust the government,” powell said. “Our job is to make sure those checks and balances are working.”

More than 100 people gathered in the Walker Art Center auditorium Monday night to discuss changing aspects of the government since the Sept. 11 attacks. Panelists led discussions on the attacks’ effects on civil liberties and Arab-Americans.

Civil liberties panelists said a checks-and-balances government is important to prevent unconstitutional laws from being passed.

Joseph Margulies, a criminal defense lawyer, said he is concerned about the U.S.A. Patriot Act, a bill passed in October that strengthens the government’s authority to monitor suspected terrorists. He said he also worried about a new bill that would allow the government to secretly monitor conversations between lawyers and inmates suspected of domestic or international terrorism.

“I can think of very little that is more troubling than violating civil liberties like that,” Margulies said.

Joan Humes, assistant U.S. attorney for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, was the only governmental voice on the panel. She said she had faith in the government to contest questionable new laws.

“When we as a federal government want to pass something, we don’t do it unilaterally,” Humes said.

Yet audience members expressed doubt in the abilities of the government. Helde Deroover, a Belgian writer living in Minneapolis, said she worried about the black-and-white-mentality of the U.S. government.

“After the attacks, all you heard was about the heroes and the victims and about the country. There was no history or background to learn about why this might happen to us,” she said. “In a way the government was as fundamentalist as the Taliban.”

Margulies referred to the
government’s history with civil rights issues, dating back to the 1917 Espionage Act during the first world war. He said Japanese-American internment camps during World War II and blacklisting during the McCarthy era should serve as warnings to a public that fears civil rights restrictions.

“If we sacrifice our civil liberties in the name of national security, we are abandoning that which distinguishes us,” Margulies said. “If we alter our freedoms, if we alter our civil liberties, we have lost the war before it has begun.”

Amy Hackbarth welcomes comments at [email protected]