To my friends at the ACLU

As a fan of civil liberties, I feel a sense of despair when I hear the refrain that civil liberties are under assault because, for example, Sean Penn might not get his next movie deal. If that's censorship, then so is the fact that the movie adaptation of Tom Clancy's "Sum of All Fears" was altered so that the bad guys were neo-Nazis instead of Islamists. Boo hoo. Somehow, I think democracy will survive this mild chilling of commercial speech, even if Mr. Penn's career doesn't.

I despair when I hear anti-war activists constantly whining that their patriotism is being questioned. Of course it is! Its called demagoguery, and its a form of free speech. Get used to it. Besides, what you're getting is mild compared to the "Bush=Hitler" vitriol I have to tolerate. Talk about questioning someone's patroitism!

I despair when I am told that deporting non-citizens whose visas have expired is a massive assault on civil liberties. It may be unwise or bad public policy, but they are guests in our country. Being a rude host is bad, but it isn't quite the same as Korematsu v. United States, the key case in the WW II internment scandal.

I despair not necessarily because the aforementioned complaints are void of any merit, I despair because they indicate the absence of a sense of proportion. My friends, the real threat to civil liberties is the de facto suspension of habeas corpus as evidenced by the detention of Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen arrested on U.S. soil. Now, Mr. Padilla may indeed be a true terrorist, and I accept the suspension of habeas corpus in times of war; but traditional wars end when the hostilities end, and so there is a natural limit to the suspension of habeas corpus. Clearly, the hostilities have ended in the Afghanistan phase of the war on terror, yet Padilla is still in legal limbo. Ultimately, no-one can define when hostilities in the "war on terror" will end. This suspension of habeas corpus is apparently of indefinite duration, and thus a dire threat to every American.

If its true that some U.S. Mosques support terrorist organizations, it follows that those Mosque's entire membership is "linked to terrorism". If drugs promote terrorism, it follows that every kid who puffs a joint is "linked to terrorism". Attorney General Ashcroft believes Mr. Padilla was "exploring" how to create a radiological "dirty bomb", which if true, is far more serious that merely being "linked" to terrorism. But the standard for detaining illegal combatants is so low (not "reasonable doubt", not even the more lenient "probable cause", but merely "some evidence" is all Ashcroft must show!), it seems an executive order is all it would take for an unlucky Muslim (or stoner) to be susceptible to the same treatment as Mr. Padilla.

Sadly, the ACLU has so far proven handicapped in its duty to defend habeas corpus. To my friends at the ACLU: You were so caught up in the grand project of extending traditional rights into new domains, such as the supposed "right" of economic immigrants to be free of the inevitable dangers of the swift current or the open desert, that you had no energy (or perhaps, credibility) left to defend the basic rights of Americans against new and unexpected challenges. Not that immigrants don't deserve some protection! But in your pride you convinced yourselves that since you'd had a string of sucesses on the traditional liberties front, it was now safe to blur the line between core liberties and extended liberties. You failed to understand that such blurring in and of itself is a treat to traditional liberties. Individual ACLU members saw the danger in Padilla's case, but as an institution you took core liberties somewhat for granted, the way every other complacent American does. But you of all people should have known better. You were caught napping. You underestimated the challenge.

Come back to your roots, ACLU! Its not too late. You've filed a brief in favor of Mr. Padilla's habeas corpus petition, and as of March 11, 2003, appear to have achieved a limited victory: a judge ruled that Padilla may meet with a lawyer before his status as an enemy combatant is determined. But his status will be determined at an administrative hearing; he still may not ever get a trial date in a court of law, the essence of habeas corpus.

You should devote more of your resources towards ensuring the next Jose Padilla has his day in court. I am cautiously hopeful that, now that our long policy of accommodation towards Iraq has ended, and the horrors of Saddam's rule have been exposed to the world, there will be a renewed hunger in the U.S. and in the world to aspire to justice over expediency. The world must see we treat Muslims the same as anyone else. I suspect if you keep focused on core liberties, and frame the issue properly, you'll find much broader support than you expect.

Good luck!