Students and guests gathered at Giedt Hall for an event organized by the student libertarian organization Young Americans for Liberty (YAL), Oct. 16. There, three prominent political pundits spoke about the issues of civil liberties facing the United States.
Though the event’s press release labeled it a debate — “Liberal, Conservative, and Libertarian Experts Debate Civil Liberties” — the first speaker, libertarian Jacob Hornberger, proved that statement incorrect. “Guess what? It’s not a debate,” he said.
Hornberger was followed by Glenn Greenwald and Bruce Fein, who identified as liberal and conservative, respectively. Both addressed the state of civil liberties in this country and indicted President Barack Obama for leaving Guantanamo Bay open, continuing America’s policy of military intervention around the world and for passing the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
The NDAA was spoken about at length by all of the speakers, including the moderator, pundit Jack Hunter.
“Barack Obama has given us the NDAA, which can impose indefinite detention on American citizens,” he said.
In his speech, Hornberger criticized the economic sanctioning policies of the United States, often seen as a cleaner alternative to war.
“You’ve got occupations, invasions, sanctions, embargoes; you’ve got an embargo against the Cuban people that’s lasted for some 50 years … and they squeeze the lifeblood out of the Cuban people. I’ve been to Cuba; people are suffering. And now we see it against the Iranians,” he said.
Greenwald, who spoke next, discussed the likely applications of the powers granted to the president by the Patriot Act and the NDAA.
“It is always the case … that abuses of government power extend far beyond their original application. If you look at how the Patriot Act was justified when it was enacted, it was supposed to be a temporary measure to combat terrorism, but if you look at how it’s been used over the last decade, it has been used overwhelmingly … in cases completely unrelated.”
Fein, the final speaker, referenced the power of the American military relative to its enemies toward the end of his speech.
“If you took the troop-to-enemy ratio towards Al Qaeda and Afghanistan today, and applied that ratio to World War II, fighting the Germans and Japanese, we would have fielded an armed force of three and a half billion soldiers,” Fein said.
After the three speeches, the floor was opened up to a round of questions and answers.
The first audience member to speak was former City Council candidate Jon Li, who referenced a section of the civil code that he said infringed on due process.
“Any government official in the state of California can institute any proceeding, judicial or administrative, and not be held accountable in a court of law, even if the act was with malice and without probable cause,” Li said.
The panel did not know much on this provision.
Another audience member stated that the issues of civil liberties could best be solved by increasing the number of representatives in the House of Representatives.
Fein replied, “There comes a point at which you have such a great number that discourse becomes impossible.”
The conversation arrived at the Nov. 18 pepper spray incident.
“I think the real symbolic meaning of that incident was that you had a bunch of students who were obviously peacefully assembling, engaged in the kind of political activism you would want college students to be engaged in, and here you have this completely sadistic, vindictive police presence who just decided for purely savage reasons to spray this chemical onto a bunch of people who were just sitting there,” Greenwald said.
The event was the second of five stops for the panelists on a Civil Liberties College Tour.
ROHIT RAVIKUMAR can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.