Topic: Law and Civil Liberties

Cato Unbound on Controlling Terror

This month’s Cato Unbound began yesterday, with a fascinating title and topic: Keep Calm and Carry On: How to Talk about Terrorism.

The term is trite, perhaps, but terrorism is handily described as a form of psychological warfare. It’s a wonder, then, that more time and attention hasn’t been paid in official Washington to communications strategies pertaining to terrorism.

People elsewhere have been giving it focus, and the author of the lead article is Bill Burns, a research scientist at Decision Research and consultant at the Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events. His piece is called “The Path Well Taken: Making the Right Decisions about Risks from Terrorism.”

You are hereby assigned it as reading, but here’s an inspiring quote from Burns’ closing paragraph:

America may yet offer the voice of calm and deliberative action to a world as shaken as we. And through these travails, we must lead by example, inspired by our constitutional freedoms and drawing from the best of our science and culture.

Watch for follow-on commentaries by Bernard Finel (January 7), John Mueller (January 9), and Camille Pecastaing (January 12).

Burns is a speaker, and this topic will be one of the subjects, at Cato’s two-day conference on counterterrorism strategy which begins on Monday next week. Read more and register here.

No Vacancies on the Supreme Court, but a New “Tenth Justice”

The selection of Harvard Law School Dean Elana Kagan to be the next solicitor general (and the first woman nominated for a position known as the “Tenth Justice”) is not at all surprising.  While President-elect Obama is under great pressure to nominate more women for cabinet and judicial positions, in Kagan and former Stanford Law School Dean Kathleen Sullivan he had two highly credentialed candidates who would have been front-runners regardless of their gender.  Two things we know about Kagan is that she is very smart – even before the Supreme Court clerkship and record of scholarship, she won a Sachs Scholarship, sometimes called a “Princeton Rhodes” – and has done a fabulous job as dean (including poaching star professors from law schools across the country).  While the White House and Attorney General will, of course, be setting the administration’s legal policy, we can expect Kagan to defend those policy positions ferociously and expertly.  Whether those efforts will coincide with a defense of the individual liberty and limited government encapsulated in the Constitution remains to be seen.

Brady Campaign Suing to Block Concealed Carry in National Parks

As I noted before, the Department of the Interior recently announced that it will allow the concealed carry of handguns in national parks and wildlife refuges. New West reports that the Brady Campaign is now suing to block implementation of the rule. (H/T to David Hardy at Of Arms & the Law.) The Brady Campaign claims that the rule will allow concealed carry on the National Mall just in time for inauguration. Not true. 

The full complaint is available here (pdf), where the claim about National Mall carry is repeated. Scroll down to pages 19-20, where one of the Brady plaintiffs alleges harm from the new rule because he lives in Maryland and visits the National Mall, where he may feel threatened by the prospect of concealed weapons.

Actually, the rule only allows carry “if, and only if, the individual is authorized to carry a concealed weapon under state law in the state in which the national park or refuge is located.” D.C. officials recently ramped up requirements for a gun permit, and a gun permit does not permit concealed carry outside the home. D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier made it explicitly clear that “[w]e have no plan to expand those laws to allow people to carry handguns in public.” 

The Department of the Interior’s rulemaking came in the wake of the landmark case District of Columbia v. Heller, which overturned the District’s long-standing gun ban. The Heller case is detailed in Brian Doherty’s new book Gun Control on Trial: Inside the Supreme Court Battle over the Second Amendment. The Cato book forum is available in video and podcast formats here.

Fort Dix Five Convicted

In case you missed it, five foreign-born defendants have been convicted of conspiring to kill American soldiers at Fort Dix, NJ, a site often used to train up reservists for deployment to Iraq. These guys are essentially terrorist wannabes, but they did have some weapons training and may have perpetrated an attack if left to their own devices.  

While the government made the effort to try some aspiring terrorists, it has bungled the prosecution of Ali al-Marri, an exchange student and alleged sleeper agent for Al Qaeda. The government moved him to military custody at the naval brig in Charleston, SC. Then the government asked the presiding judge to dismiss the charges against al-Marri with prejudice, meaning that they cannot be re-filed if he moves back to civilian custody. That was a very peculiar thing for the government to do and may end up wasting good police and intelligence work. 

The Fourth Circuit held that he can be held as an enemy combatant, but the Supreme Court granted certiorari and is slated to hear arguments in March. 

For more on the future of counterterrorism policy, check out Cato’s upcoming conference. This is part of a three-year project on counterterrorism and civil liberties.

Great Moments in Local Government

This story probably has a deeper meaning for those concerned about a hyper-sensitive society. It also probably raises the hackles of those trying to protect 2nd Amendment rights. But my immediate reaction was that only government could do something as stupid as arrest a 10-year old boy for having a toy cap gun:

The latest case of zero-tolerance at the public schools has a 10-year-old student sadder and wiser, and facing expulsion and long-term juvenile detention. And it has his mother worried that his punishment has already been harsher than the offense demands. “I think I shouldn’t have brought a gun to school in the first place,” said the student, Alandis Ford, sitting at home Thursday night with his mother, Tosha Ford, at his side. Alandis’ gun was a “cap gun,” a toy cowboy six-shooter that his mother bought for him. “We got it from Wal-Mart for $5.96,” Tosha Ford said, “in the toy section right next to the cowboy hats. That’s what he wanted because it was just like the ones he was studying for the Civil War” in his fifth-grade class at Fairview Elementary School. …Tosha said that Wednesday afternoon, after school, “six police officers actually rushed into the door” of their home. “He [Alandis] opened the door because they’re police. And then they just kind of pushed him out of the way, and asked him, ‘Well where’s the gun, where’s the real gun?’ And they called him a liar… they booked him, and they fingerprinted him.” …Alandis was charged with possessing a weapon on school property and with terroristic acts and threats. …Sherri Viniard, the Director of Public Relations for the Newton County School System, emailed a statement to 11Alive News Thursday that reads, in part: “Student safety is our primary concern, and although this was a toy gun, it is still a very serious offense and it is a violation of school rules. We will not tolerate weapons of any kind on school property.” Alandis had his first hearing in juvenile court on Thursday. Tosha said the case worker assigned to Alandis will recommend a period of probation, rather than juvenile detention. The judge will make the final decision. Tosha said Alandis is not allowed back in school for now. She has a meeting scheduled with school administrators. She does not know if he will be expelled, and is hoping for no more than a ten-day suspension.

David Spade versus the Mexican Cartels

News outlets are reporting that actor David Spade donated $100,000 to the Phoenix Police Department to purchase AR-15 rifles for patrol officers. 

If the police officers in the Southwest are outgunned, it is likely because former Mexican soldiers have been recruited by the drug cartels.  As the War on Drugs has ballooned north from Colombia to Mexico, military incursions on American soil are becoming more common, Mexican soldiers are being killed and beheaded, and police officers are being assassinated (warning: violent content). 

This is one more way that the War on Drugs is nonsensical policy.  For more on this topic, click here, here, or here.

Fallows on Security

On the Atlantic blog, James Fallows has a few thoughts about security.

In sharing them, he compliments Cato’s own “precocious” Ben Friedman, and endorses our January counterterrorism conference: “I hope that everyone who can possibly be in Washington on Jan 12-13, including [DHS Secretary-designee Janet] Napolitano, will attend this conference, at Cato, about rational and non-hysteric ways to keep America secure.”

You can learn more and register here.