What Rights Should We Give Terrorists?

By Joe Campbell
November 2nd, 2007

[digg-reddit-me]Behind the debates, votes, and bureaucratic battles of the past few years over civil liberties, torture, Guantanamo, terrorist tribunals, the Patriot Act, and domestic wiretapping, are two different views of how to respond to the threat of terrorism. Republicans and liberals each frame the question differently, asking two basic questions that lead them to diverging answers about the same issues.

A. Republicans

  • Question: What rights should we give to terrorists?
  • Answer: It doesn’t really matter. We need to do what is necessary to keep people safe. You shouldn’t care what we do unless you are a terrorist. (See footnote.)

B. Liberals

  • Question: How can we best reduce the risk of terrorism while preserving a free society?
  • Answer: There is no simple answer. It’s a complicated process necessitating many trade-offs and compromises and the process needs to be as transparent as possible.

While Republicans have often deflected Question B by answering Question A, their response to Question A indicates that they do not believe the two questions are related. I don’t know how many times I have been told in debates on the issues that I shouldn’t worry about them unless I am a terrorist. To consider the effect of our government’s actions gets you called a “fellow traveler” with the jihadists or more charitably is labeled “pre-9/11 thinking”. This is the essential idea of the books published by Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity, of countless columns in the National Review and Wall Street Journal, and of a large part of the Republican’s electoral success in the 2002 and 2004 elections.

Politically, Question A confers great advantages. It offers easy answers. It comforts us – “If I’m not a terrorist, what do I care?” It seems a tougher approach. Most important though, it emotionally charges the issue. “Why should we confer the rights our society guarantees on those who have no respect for these rights and who will exploit them?” It separates them from us. Question B leads to a rational, reflective discussion and no easy answers. It’s a much harder sell and has been portrayed as a sign of weakness.

Despite the political rhetoric, both questions are merely different ways of phrasing the same problem. In fact, the disagreement between Republicans and liberals centers around a single point of controversy:

Do terrorists have rights?

  • Republicans have resoundingly answered “NO!” They have even gone so far as to indicate that even if you are only suspected of being a terrorist, you have lost many if not all rights.
  • Liberals believe terrorists do have rights, although many liberals do acknowledge that terrorism presents such a challenge to our way of life that we must make some changes to our system to deal with the issue effectively.

Within the Republican framing of the issue is a single, absolutely frightening idea that undermines the very basis of our nation and freedoms: that the government confers rights upon people rather than that rights being inherent in each individual. This is a profoundly unconservative idea – a radical one more generally associated with Communism than with any American ideology. You can see this idea at work listening to the chief prosecutor for Guantanamo defend his treatment of prisoners there, in Cheney’s defense of the terrorist tribunals, in Rudy’s defense of “enhanced interrogation”, in Bush’s defense of domestic wiretapping.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with inherent and inalienable rights; that among these, are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…”

The problem with the Republican position is that it denies the very basis for American government, one of the cornerstones of our Constitution. If you believe in the ideals encapsulated in the first collective document produced by the American nation, in the reason for the revolution that created our country, in the ideals that animated the Founders in creating the Constitution, then terrorists have rights, inherent, inalienable, and God-given. If you reject this idea and believe instead that the government grants us rights which we can then exercise – to a fair and speedy trial, to a jury of peers, to not be tortured, to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, to free speech, to freedom of assembly, to an expectation of privacy – then you have negated the very basis of our founding. This is self-evident.

What then is the rationale for the Republican position?

Simply, the Republican position is this: the terrorists have won. The terrorists’ ideas and actions make America’s liberal democracy irrelevant. We must take what steps are necessary to protect the public safety; civil liberties are only for those who deserve them. Although the President took an oath to defend the Constitution, he now must defend American lives at the expense of this old document.

Clearly all Republicans do not believe this; and many who have mouthed these lines are merely reacting emotionally and have not thought through the clear consequences of their rhetoric. This is why I believe there is still hope for this country. There are many details liberals and conservatives can work out about the balance between protecting the public and protecting each individual, between liberty and safety. But to frame the issue as the Republicans have is truly radical, and it should be recognized as such. And to act as the Bush administration has done, based on the assumption that rights are granted rather than inherent, has clearly undermined everything America stands for.

footnotes: To be fair to those who defend these various violations of liberties, there are a number of more sophisticated legal, moral, philosophical, practical, and strategic arguments that have been made in defense of each individual action, and in defense of the Bush administration’s approach as a whole. I believe these arguments are for the most part disingenuous, based on moral relativism, and just plain wrong. But I won’t be dealing with them in this post. Instead, I am trying to start with the first issue: to set the terms of the debate. The Republican response is presented here in the most common form it appears in public debate.

Also, I should note that I chose the terms Republican and liberal instead of conservative and Democrat because I believed they were the most accurate terms to use. I do not believe many Republicans today are truly conservative – instead, they are reactionary and authoritarian. Many of the Democrats have gone along with the Republican framing of the debate, and so I have differentiated the liberals from the Democrats.

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22 Responses to “What Rights Should We Give Terrorists?”

  1. Libertys Bell Says:

    There is a Constitutional answer to this question. A terrorist that is a citizen of the U.S. is a criminal and should be apprehended and tried on their crimes as such. A non-citizen terrorist falls under the natural laws of nations and are therefore subject to Letters of Marque and Reprisal. The holder of a Letter of Marque on Bin Laden, for example, would be offered a reward for the capture and/or death of Osama Bin Laden. This is actually the proper role of firms such as Blackwater, USA. Such firms have no business acting in place of military or police; however, they would fill a very important role in apprehending international criminals such as terrorists. Terrorism is not a new concept and was dealt with quite effectively in the past. If we were to but learn a lesson from history, we could just as easily deal with terrorists now without compromising our liberties and our constitution. All it takes is to use the devices outlined within the Constitution to deal with this class of crime.

  2. mooster Says:

    Strangely enough, the terrorists HAVE won, simply because the current administration and their media counterparts are willing to sacrifice over 200 years of freedom just to extend their own power. I suppose that if you really believe the Bushism that “they hate us for our freedom”, then appeasing the terrorists by scrapping that freedom might seem to be a proper course of action, but why are Republicans so willing to give into the terrorists?

  3. Who'sYourDaddy??? Says:

    Your question is incorrect, it’s not a matter of what rights we give terrorists. It’s a matter of what rights we, as citizens are willing to give up, either to our government or to its agents in the pursuit of terrorists. I am not willing to surrender a single one of my constitutional rights nor am I willing to grant this or any administration any additional powers other than those explicitly granted under the constitution.

    Anything more is a surrender to the darkest parts of human nature as exemplified by the last seven years of this administration and its constant fear mongering.

  4. joe@2parse Says:


    I’m not sure that you read my post. The question I ask is not “What rights should we give terrorists?” That is the question I attribute to Republicans. Rather, the question I ask is: “How can we best reduce the risk of terrorism while preserving a free society?”

    I am not sure that your response though accurately reflects an approach we both could agree on

    We, as citizens, give up many rights – and that is appropriate. We may have the right to pursue our happiness, but not necessarily at the expense of others. The system of rights that we enjoy in America today, and in America’s history, is a system of compromises. Although the Bill of Rights may grant you a right to free speech, this right is not absolute. The Constitution grants me the right to bear arms, but how far does that extend? The freedom of assembly is impinged by numerous regulations about applying for permits and such. If I travel on the subways, I am told that I am granting permission to have my bag searched. Even these explicit Constitutional rights are compromised.

    Finally, the Bush administration may be pretty awful – but it is not a reflection of “the darkest parts of human nature”. There is far worse out there.


    The real terrorists are in the white house and Washington DC…..and yes…I believe even this odious collection of insane, low-brow, greedy, power-hungry, war mongers have individual liberties that, for the sake of all, should not be denied.

    “Beware the leader who bangs the drums in war to whip the citizenry into a patriotic fervor, for patriotism is indeed a double-edged sword. It both emboldens the blood, just as it narrows the mind.

    And when the drums of war have reached a fever pitch and the blood boils with hate and the mind has closed, the leader will have no need in seizing the rights of the citizenry, infused with fear and blinded by patriotism, they will offer up all their rights unto the leader and gladly so.

    How do I know ? For this is what I have done. And I am Ceasar.”

    “Of all the enemies to public liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes. And armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended. Its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war and in the degeneracy of manners and morals, engendered by both. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.” – James Madison, April 20, 1795

    “Naturally the common people don’t want war: Neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.” ~ Hermann Goering, President of the Reichstag, Nazi Party, and Luftwaffe Commander in Chief

    “If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.” ~ James Madison, while a United States Congressman

    “We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount… The world has achieved brilliance without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living.” – General Omar N. Bradley

    “We are fast approaching the stage of the ultimate inversion: the stage where the government is free to do anything it pleases, while the citizens may act only by permission; which is the stage of the darkest periods of human history, the stage of rule by brute force.” – – – Ayn Rand, The Nature of Government – – – – – – – ILLEGITIMATI NON CARBORUNDUM! – – – – – – – – PRO LIBERTATE!!! – – – – – – – –

    In the battle for Liberty,

  6. Scott Says:

    Last I checked “Liberal” wasn’t a political affiliation in the United States. Liberal and Conservative are used to show what direction someone’s views go. Republicans can be liberals! In fact, the Republicans currently inhabiting the White House are INCREDIBLY liberal. But they’re FISCALLY LIBERAL, and SOCIALLY CONSERVATIVE. Liberal DOES NOT mean Democrat. Hell, until the 60s and 70s, Republicans had the views of Modern Democrats, and Democrats had the views of Modern Republicans.

    Ron Paul is a Republican. He’s socially liberal and fiscally conservative. Most people call him a Libertarian. The polar opposite of the Bush Administration, they’re fiscally liberal and socially conservative. There are socially conservative and fiscally conservative Democrats. Libertarians are socially liberal, fiscally conservative.

    So, this page is doing a dis-service to many people who read it and continues to perpetuate the lack of political debate and lumps unrelated groups of political affiliations together.

  7. joe@2parse Says:


    You seem to have done a disservice to me and anyone who might read your comment in not reading my footnote in which I partially addressed this issue.

    I used the terms deliberately and purposively. I know that I chose the world “liberal” instead of “Democrat” because many Democrats have gone along with the Republican framing of the debate. I did not use the term “conservative” because I do not believe the Bush administration has been conservative – in fact, I characterize them as radical in the article, which is, in most meaningful ways, the opposite of conservative.

    It is also odd that an economic liberal is the opposite of someone who is fiscally liberal. It seems to me that the latter term was just invented as a derogatory way of referring to the spending habits of liberal Democrats.

    Ron Paul is not socially liberal. He is against abortion, against gay marriage, against medicinal marijuana, in favor of an absolute right to gun ownership, and has voted with the Christian Coalition 76% of the time.

    I am not sure what you mean by saying that Republicans in the 60s and 70s had the views of Modern Democrats and vice versa. I think you are misunderstanding the political dynamic at work here. In the 60s and 70s, the Democrats were on offense and Republicans on defense. Today, the situation has been reversed. This explains the switch better than any policy or ideological changes.

    You seem to have been confused by my definitions, so let me explain briefly what I mean by each term: a Republican is a supporter of the current administration, who supports the Republican party platform, at least in a substantial part. This encompasses the greatest majority of elected officials who consider themselves Republican. A liberal on the other hand is more loosely defined. It encompasses many people who consider themselves liberal as well as progressive and some centrists. The greatest majority of these people are Democrats, but not all Democrats are liberals. The “liberal’ argument is one which draws on the cultural and political but not economic “liberal tradition”. The economic liberal tradition is also part of contemporary liberalism, but in a diluted form with greater governmental oversight and intervention.

    Does this clear anything up?

  8. lynx Says:

    for the most part i agree with this post, governments do not give us rights, we are born with them. In fact in most societies at most points in history, including the here and now, the actions of States can best be characterized as limiting freedom rather then safeguarding or conferring it.. In other words, the institution of the State is fundamentally opposed to the institution of natural rights because the state gains power as the people lose it and vis versa. As the old anarchist proverb puts it, “the degree to which you resist is the degree to which you are free”.

    The American experiment, as envisioned by the founders, was based on the proposition that the state could be restrained and limited through a constitutional system whereby its powers were strictly delineated and it was explicitly forbidden from granting itself additional powers. That experiment has manifestly been a failure since the entire history of the American nation can be best understood as a series of parallel territorial and government expansions as the United stated grew from being a small nation built around a federation of 13 semi-autonomous regions tied together with a relatively weak central government into into a massive empire covering almost half a continent based on a strong central government that is active in all aspects of life and the economy.

    In short, the nation which is described in the constitution and the nation in which we live are two very, very different places. The constitution has been a dead letter for a very long time, it’s only real value at this point is sentimental, the federal government has not been bound by its strict limitations on the exercise of State power for a very very long time. This should surprise no one, expecting the State to regulate itself and limit its own power was, at best., an exercise in political naivete. At worst it was a cynical ploy on the part of some of our more authoritarian founders to get the fiercely independent American colonists to accept a strong federal government. Men like James Madison for whom the primary role of government was not the preservation of liberty, but “to protect Property from the Majority”, ie the preservation of the wealth and power of the economic and political elites at the expense of all other segments of society. The anti-federalists saw the ruse for what it was and fought the constitution tooth and nail, and we can thank their persistence for the Bill of Rights, without which this particular battle would have been lost a long time ago.

    All of which is a rather long-winded way of saying that it is difficult to defend a free society when we do not, in fact, have one to defend. The Republicans, and most Democrats for that matter, would like our society to be even less free. Their efforts should be opposed, no doubt. But those efforts do not make them “radicals” and your use of the term to describe them is disingenuous at best. The word “Radical” refers to one who goes to the root of the issue, not simply one who is an extremist. (Even the term extremist is problematic, one mans wild-eyed extremist is another mans pragmatic thinker, depending mostly on context and popular biases)..

    I, sir, am a Radical, and in a society like ours where most discussions of political issues and theory are incredibly shallow i consider it a point of pride that I make a conscious effort to dig a bit deeper and look for the roots of the issues I write on. The Republicans are not Radicals in any sense of the term, they are worshipers of Authority and the State, a position which places them counter to the stated intent of the Declaration of Independence and most American political theory but entirely in line with the actual practice of American political power over the last two centuries. The disconnect between the ideals that we as a nation love to proclaim and the way American politics actually run goes right to the core of your article and of the entire debate over terrorism, rights, and what the response from civil society should be.

    You are right to argue that a sane response to terrorism must be careful, nuanced, and respectful of those few rights which we as a people maintain, but when you talk about “limiting” rights you walk a very fine line indeed. So when you write in one of your responses

    “We, as citizens, give up many rights – and that is appropriate. We may have the right to pursue our happiness, but not necessarily at the expense of others. The system of rights that we enjoy in America today, and in America’s history, is a system of compromises. Although the Bill of Rights may grant you a right to free speech, this right is not absolute. The Constitution grants me the right to bear arms, but how far does that extend? The freedom of assembly is impinged by numerous regulations about applying for permits and such. If I travel on the subways, I am told that I am granting permission to have my bag searched. Even these explicit Constitutional rights are compromised”

    You have already lost me. The bill of Rights doesn’t “grant” anything, it recognizes pre-exzisting rights and prohibits the government from interfering with their exercise. Strangely, it seems you wrote something similar in your original article, but in your response here you clearly contradict yourself and take the Republican line. As for the rest of your paragraph, the only possible abuse of Free Speech is not speaking. Period. The freedom of Assembly according to the constitution should be unlimited, the first amendment is a clear blanket prohibition against limitations of its exercise by the State, and all the permitting processes and limitations that the State places on its exercise are therefore unconstitutional and illegal under what is supposed to be the highest law of the land. And riding on the subway most definitely should not imply ‘consent’ to be searched. By conceding limitations on our rights you have already conceded to the Authoritarians in both parties who would like nothing better then to see America become the newest incarnation of Roman Republicanism instead of the Athenian Democracy it should have been. Freedom has to be absolute or else it isn’t freedom, it’s a less egregious form of slavery.

    As for me, your rallying call of “Bigger Cages, Longer Chains!” fails to move me. Better luck next time.

  9. Matt Says:

    From the article:

    “They have even gone so far as to indicate that even if you are only suspected of being a terrorist, you have lost many if not all rights.”

    I believe this is the crux of the problem. We need to ask ourselves: “Is someone a terrorist simply by virtue of being suspected of being a terrorist?”. I doubt there are many people out there actually saying that “terrorists” in a true sense of the word deserve the same rights as everyone else, but the problem is I don’t think we’re all in agreement over what a terrorist IS…is it someone who’s been proven to have committed a terrorist act, or is it simply anyone who is suspected of committing such an act? I think that saying liberals believe terrorists have rights is just a confusion of terms….I think it’s more accurate to say liberals believe terrorism SUSPECTS have rights, but I can’t speak for everyone.

  10. saurabh Says:

    As a society of laws that believes in rights, the question you SHOULD have posed was: What rights should we give to people we suspect are terrorists? If you’ll note, a fair amount of the Bill of Rights is devoted to ensuring the right to a fair trial. The fact that some people have been released from Guantanamo after a long incarceration apparently guilty of no crime at all adds weight to this perspective. It is a simple fact that we believe in “innocent before proven guilty”, and not the other way around. As such, everyone, terrorists or not, must have the same rights.

  11. joe@2parse Says:

    to lynx:
    i was wrong in this instance: you are right in that i should have said that the Bill of Rights recognized that certain rights existed rather than granting them. as for the rest of your response: I do agree that America has never lived up to its ideals. that said, the ideal government environed by the Founders was based on pragmatism and practicality as much as anything else. I do not share the same pessimism about America that you do or the same negative view of America’s history. I am not an absolutist in terms of rights or civil liberties; I believe in compromise because the absolute freedom of any person inevitably leads to the slavery of another. What we need is the best compromise.

    to Matt and saurabh:
    I understand your point – and it is important to consider the rights of those suspected of terrorism. That is not an issue which I focused on here. Rather, my point was that the Republican point of view regarding how to approach terrorism begins with the assumption that the fact of terrorism has made civil liberties and a liberal society meaningless.

  12. conservoter Says:

    The question itself indicates what is wrong with the entire debate. “What rights should we give terrorists?” implies guilt before trial. So, even the author of this question has agreed that the assumption of guilt is sufficient for conviction. We have decided they are guilty before trial. Once they are convicted legally this becomes a somewhat legitimate question, although then the question should rightly be :should convicted terrorists be subject to unique punishment, or are they subject to the same set of laws all citizens of this country? Having gotten this far in my response, I have read some of the other responses and realize I am just reiterating the same point. Still, the point is valid.

  13. joe@2parse Says:


    In the article, I laid out two different questions asked: one by Republicans, and one by liberals. I do not think the right question to ask, if we are trying to find a solution to the problem of terrorism, is “What rights should we give terrorists?” Rather I think that this question is used to dodge the real questions we do face.

    Secondly, the issue of whether an individual is guilty or not of whatever crime is essential. I did not even begin to deal with that issue here. It is legitimate to ask: “What rights do terrorists have?” and even “What rights should we grant to terrorists?” This does not imply that guilt is assumed before a trial, but that after a trial, the question becomes: What, now? (I say here that terrorists both have and are granted rights. They have rights inherent in their humanity. They are granted rights by treaties, governments, etc. In some cases, government grant rights that are also inherent. This is redundant but often useful.)

  14. ramazoom Says:

    A person accused of a crime is innocent until proven guilty. Pointing the finger at someone and calling him or her a terrorist does not make this person a terrorist. Believing without any doubt whatsoever, being absolutely convinced that a person is a terrorist, does not make this person a terrorist.

    That’s basic stuff, right?

    Consider the case of Mr Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen renditioned by the United States to Syria for torture. He was treated like a criminal based on unfounded suspicions and lousy intelligence analysis from Canada, condemned de facto by an arbitrary extra-judicial process in the United-States in the course of an evening, deported to Syria where he remained for over a year, being interrogated and tortured at the implicit request of the Canadian and American governments for their war on terror. Mr Arar, while being detained in New York in September 2002, was a terrorist to the the immigration officers, to the FBI and to the CIA. At the hands of his torturers in Syria, Mr Arar was a terrorist. To CSIS, the RCMP and the Canadian government officials visiting him in Syria for the better part of 2003, Mr Arar was a terrorist. He was getting what he deserved. Of course, it was not very nice having to do this. After all, rendition and torture were not the investigative tools of choice. But these were other times. America was under attack, the gloves were coming off, and some dirty business had to be done. A necessary evil.

    Mr Arar has survived his ordeal. He is now a free man. After a lengthy investigation and a full inquiry, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper on 26 January 2007 has issued a formal apology to Mr Arar and paid him $12.5 million in compensation for the irreparable damages done to him and his family. All evidence in the Arar case were scrutinized ad nauseam, no stones were left unturned during the inquiry and internal investigations, and Mr Arar was cleared of any links with Al Qaeda, terrorist activities, or association or sympathy with terrorist organizations. All admit now that there was just nothing there. Just lousy, fragmentary, and erroneous intelligence. The kind of intelligence that gets innocent people killed. In September 2002, Maher Arar was simply returning home from a vacation in Tunisia. No less, no nore. That’s it. A guy on a stop in New York, on is way home to Canada, after a vacation in Tunisia.

    Someone at the airport in New York in September 2002 should have taken the time to think this through. Someone should have been very patient. There was no crisis. Nothing had to be rushed. There was no life-or-death situation. But Mr Arar was muslim, and he was on a list. So on that day in September 2002, Canada and the United States abandoned Mr Arar. Had he not been muslim, he would not have been abandoned by his country.

    What rights should be given to terrorists? I guess we should give terrorists those same rights I hope I’ll have on that dreadful evening, during a stop in a foreign airport, when someone pulls out a piece of paper from a file, looks into my eyes, and makes the call that I am a terrorist: “Should we disappear him? Should we interrogate him? He’s on the watch list…. What did the last memo say on rights? What rights do terrorists have?”

    Give them those same rights you and I think we still have as citizens of democratic countries. Give them those same rights. Give them those rights you and I will want on that evening, when something goes very wrong, when there seems to be no one around with common sense, and when a single breath still separates us from an aircraft leaving for nowhere. For God’s sake, give them those same rights.


  15. lynx Says:

    ramazoom –

    I agree with you 100%. Denying rights to any segment of the population means that those rights can be denied for everyone, and that’s a very dangerous road to go down.

    This is especially true since, in this day and age, virtually anyone can be declared a “terrorist” for simply espousing causes or beliefs that the government objects too. Food Not Bombs, an international network of anarcho-pacifist collectives that salvages food from grocery stores and resturaunts that would otherwise be thrown away and makes it available to homeless people – is officially a terrorist organization according to the US government. For FEEDING HOMELESS PEOPLE. I mean, dear gods, these people are explicitly pacifist; but because they are also anarchists who would like to see the war machine dismantled and the money spent on weapons of destruction spent on helping to alleviate human suffering and misery, the State calls them Terrorists. Now that’s some kind of terror. And Just last week the House passed a bill that would make it a crime to advocate any “extremist” political viewpoint. If this bill becomes law the first amendment ceases to exist and I become a criminal and a terrorist because I believe in human freedom and dignity and am not willing to compromise away my natural rights for a false sense of security. In the very near future it *could* very easily be me getting sent to Syria and tortured for a year. Hell, this post itself could be considered an act of “terrorism” if this bill goes through.

    And that, dear admin, is why I think you are absolutely 100% irrefutably WRONG to argue that compromise is at all appropriate. you say

    “I believe in compromise because the absolute freedom of any person inevitably leads to the slavery of another. ”

    and I say that if you actually believe that you’re out of your mind. It is not freedom that makes slavery, but compromise. My freedom to speak, to assemble, to protest, to petition, to bear arms, and to utilize all of the rights in the Bill of Rights (as well as the unspecified “others” in the 10th amendment) has a 0% chance of enslaving anyone. But limiting those rights even in the smallest degree for anyone moves everyone a step closer to slavery. Failing to stand up for our rights and sitting by as they are chipped away slowly and consistently is not a sign of reasonableness or level-headedness, it is a sign of cowardice. Gutless, spineless, blind cowardice. Nothing more, nothing less.

  16. joe@2parse Says:


    I agree with your concerns – about the erosion of rights, etc. But I do not agree with the point you are making – namely that compromise on matters of civil rights is “cowardice” inappropriate, unreasonable, “gutless, spineless,” and crazy.

    Our Bill of Rights itself is a result of compromise. As was our Constitution. As is every law that is passed. My freedom to speak in America has never been absolute: I cannot yell fire in a crowded theater (unless I am on stage, I presume); I cannot assemble with others any where or any time; I cannot bear arms at any place or time. There are limits, and as citizens we must ensure that these limits give us as much room as possible – and most important, that no compromises destroy the institutions that make democracy work.

    As to you comment that freedom has 0% chance of enslaving anyone – you are right if you list those rights contained in the Bill of Rights. But if freedom is defined as “the ability to act without constraint”, you can see how the absolute freedom of any person leads to less freedom for others. Absolute freedom is only enjoyed by dictators. As free men and women, we enjoy limited freedom. I believe individuals should be given as much freedom as possible without infringing on the freedoms of others – so that so-called “consensual crimes” should not exist. But I acknowledge that our freedom cannot be absolute.

  17. lynx Says:

    and that is the problem, you won’t yell fire in a crowded theatre becaue you believe you don’t have that right, but I am standing there shouting fire at the top of my lungs because our theater is, in fact, on fire.

  18. joe@2parse Says:

    an interesting spin on the metaphor, but it doesn’t respond to my basic point: that any free society is based on compromise and that the absolute freedom of any one person inevitably infringes on the freedom of others.

  19. LawIsPresident Says:

    Very interesting view, but aren’t rights, by definition, something that can neither be given nor taken away? Just the fact that that simple view on ‘rights’ has been lost, shows truly how far America has fallen.

  20. lynx Says:

    you wrote:

    “As to you comment that freedom has 0% chance of enslaving anyone – you are right if you list those rights contained in the Bill of Rights. But if freedom is defined as “the ability to act without constraint”, you can see how the absolute freedom of any person leads to less freedom for others.”

    correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t those the very same rights you’re talking about limiting and compromising away? Because I could’ve sworn that you used your “compromise is necessary” argument. in your article you go so far as to list specific abridgments of those rights that you are willing to accept. You then accuse me of being unreasonable for being unwilling to compromise and imply that my uncompromising defense of the bill of rights has the potential to enslave others, and then try to backpedal out of it all by saying that I’m right after all and the rights enshrined in the first ten amendments to the constitution won’t actually enslave anyone after all! So why are you so willing to throw those rights away in the name of compromise? Freedoms once surrendered, after all, are only ever bought back with blood. So unless you’re prepared to do an awful lot of bleeding I would urge you to be a bit less hasty to surrender our rights in the name of “compromise” or security.

    btw: a definition of “freedom” as “the ability to act without constraint” is meaningless. I want to be able to sing with perfect pitch but it just ain’t happening. that isn’t an infringement on my freedom, it’s reality. So you can throw that straw man back on the proverbial compost heap where it belongs.

    I think Jefferson had the definition of rights down pretty well when he laid down the basic human right to alter, abolish, or overthrow an oppressive government as the starting point of the declaration of independence, and I think the anti-federalist movement that he led had a pretty good understanding of things when they fought for and won the bill of rights – which enshrines all of the “Freedoms” that We The People need TO Alter, Abolish, or Overthrow the government..

    As I said in my first post, the degree to which we resist is the degree to which we are free, and the bill of rights is our last garauntee of the rights needed to effectively resist. limiting and compromising those rights is the single surest way to make our nation less free, bot now and for generations to come. And frankly, you just plain don’t have the right to do that.

  21. jim sadler Says:

    Our rights are bestowed by our creator and can not be taken from us regardless of guilt, innocence or claims of national security. If we are at war it is our obligation to treat all prisoners well just as we would be expected to be well treated if prisoners, ourselves. The fastest way to assure that Americans will be tortured now and in the future is to decide that there are some legitimate reasons for torture or forceful interviews. Conversely if it is well known that our prison camps are a nice place to li9ve it can become astoundingly easy for enemies to seek the comfort of a nice prison rather than the horrors of the field of battle.

  22. joe@2parse Says:


    Although the bulk of my response to your latest comment can be found in the later post that you already found, I wanted to respond to a few specific things here:

    You wrote that I accused you of being unreasonable. Please re-read what I did write. You accused me of being unreasonable, and I subsequently wrote:
    “I agree with your concerns – about the erosion of rights, etc. But I do not agree with the point you are making – namely that compromise on matters of civil rights is “cowardice” inappropriate, unreasonable, “gutless, spineless,” and crazy.”

    I don’t see where I accused you of being unreasonable.

    and you also wrote:
    “limiting and compromising those rights is the single surest way to make our nation less free, bot now and for generations to come. And frankly, you just plain don’t have the right to do that.”

    I am not limiting or compromising your rights, as you suggested. I believe that a society is based on the compromise of individual rights. It is not about my right to limit you, but the rights of society to do so.

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