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tv   Tavis Smiley  PBS  November 5, 2011 12:30am-1:00am EDT

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tavis: good evening. from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. a conversation with the president of the aclu, susan herman. she is out with a new text coinciding with the 10th anniversary of the patriot act. the new book is called "taking liberties." >> every community has a martin
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luther king boulevard. it's the cornerstone we all know. it's not just a street or boulevard, but a place where walmart stands together with your community to make every day better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and every answer, nationwide insurance is proud to join tavis in working to improve financial omod cbsvetato and remove obstacles to economic empowerment one conversation at a time. nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] tavis: susan herman is the present of the aclu. after serving two decades on the
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board of directors, she teaches law at brooklyn law school. her new text is called "taking liberties: the war on terror and the erosion of american democracy." good to have you on this program. i want to jump right in. this book is released and the timing could not be more propitious. we are almost commemorating this is the 10th anniversary of the patriot act. it has now been extended until 2015. let me ask what your assessment is of the patriot act now. >> a lot of people -- what a lot of people do not know is that it is a whole grab bag. my original copy printed out at 300 pages. it is hundreds of amendments. most people are familiar with the surveillance issues.
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because there are so many different provisions, is it's a good or bad thing? there are so many different parts. you would have to break that down. what i could say to generalize is that although i think it was understandable in the fall of 2001, 45 days after 9/11, which were trying to figure out something to do. i think 10 years later, it is about time for us to look good all those provisions and figure out which ones are working and which ones were never a good idea. >> when you say that in light of what happened 10 years ago, it is understandable that we would have done something and maybe we were not prepared for what happened to us. 45 days is relatively quick. it raises the question of whether or not in trying to respond to what happened to us
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10 years ago, we there are not removed to quickly. >> we certainly moved too quickly. there were no hearings, no testimony. what you were just saying about provisions of the patriot act been removed, what congress decided to do instead was that 16 of them more controversial positions. they would expire after four years unless congress decided to renew them. after four years, in 2005, congress renewed almost all of the controversial provisions. my concern is not even those controversial provisions. all those other provisions, which -- is the normal. they are a permanent part of the law. even though there is reason to believe that they're not serving us well. part of the problem is the american people do not really
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know what the costs are of a lot of those provisions. that is why i wrote this book. at the same time, i think because there is some much secrecy involved, we brought -- we do not know what is happening behind the curtain. we do not know what we're getting. should i give you one example? in the fall of 2001, one of the theory's going around was that perhaps one way to stop terrorism was to stop terrorist financing. to make sure there was no pipeline of money going from brooklyn mosques to terrorist about qaeda. an immense -- terrorist al qaeda. it was a broad definition. there're all sides of obligations. they have to collect information on their customers, they have to let the government look at their records.
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suspicious activity reports, money laundering programs. there was a campaign against the muslim charity is in this country to shut them down. not much evidence that they're doing anything wrong. five years later, when the 9/11 commission studied what had happened on 9/11, they did not think that the financing of terrorism from within this country was a problem. they also thought the whole idea that this was like money laundering and you could do the same kind of thing was off base. nevertheless, five years after that report, we continue to have all this apparatus that says business is all over this country jumping through hoops. the charity's are very upset about a number of changes in the law. it could affect them and more devastating ways. tavis: even if one argues that president bush was in charge of the white house, republicans
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controlled congress, democrats -- there were a number of democrats that along with what president bush asked them to do. who voted for what and who did what. 10 years ago, president bush was in charge. republicans were running things. he gets democrats to support him. that was then. when president obama does to get elected and for a couple of years, he controls both houses of congress, they did not do anything to overturn, to do away with any of these controversial provisions when they did have controlled the white house, the senate, and the house. >> that is true. president obama did take a very different approach about guantanamo bay and torture, when it comes to the kinds of things i write about, about the things that affect ordinary americans,
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his policies have been very much like those of president bush. tavis: even on guantanamo, it is not closed yet. he took a different position, but it is still open. >> he is getting so much push back from congress. it is difficult to say, he has not done it. congress is battling him when he wants not to use military commissions. we want the option of going into regular court. people say to me, does that mean that he was lying when he was a candidate? i do not think so. i think it looks different from the point of view of a president. every morning, the president gets a briefing about all the things that might happen. most of them never to happen. the chief thing we did in the fall of 2001 during the leadership of george w. bush, was that the government got congress to give them -- we
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better get the president a great deal of power because what if there is a terrorist that we could find this way and we could not find a different way? we have to do more surveillance, more opportunities for criminal law enforcement and prosecution. we better have more security screenings. but president bush said u.s., we do not intend to use these dragnets against people who are not terrorists. we have material support laws. it allows the prosecution of red cross to giving humanitarian aid to terrorists. is president obama going to prosecute the red cross? i do not think so. from his position now, it seems like the problem is not as bad because he says he can be adjusted. the attorney general can be trusted to do the right thing. the very existence of these large dragnets is a problem. tavis: let me take it a step further. the book talks about the war on
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terror and the erosion of american democracy. what we are sacrificing as the american people. there is this question about -- there is an assessment that needs to be made now of the white house itself. one of the issues i have 10 years later with this so-called bush doctrine, if we think you were going to strike us, we strike you first. that is what it is all about. the white house does a power grab, they pulled to their side of the ledger as much power as they can. why have there been no hearings on the so-called bush doctrine? why is the presidency gotten away with this power grab? >> that is a great point. one of the problems is -- all
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three branches of the federal government have been lining up behind this dragnet. you can imagine the president saying, why would i give up these powers when i trust myself to use them? congress is not doing much oversight. they have been letting the president and executive branch to what they want. to me, the surprising part of the story is that the courts have been letting the president did away with it. it is not for various reasons. we're not going to hear weather or not that program is unconstitutional because there is a state secret privilege or standing document. they keep throwing out cases. therefore, what is happening is that no political actors are getting pushed back from their constituents. tavis: how do constituents
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push back? how did they use their agency is under republican administration, they get this kind of attack on liberties? under a democratic administration, the attack on liberties continues. how did they use their agency if on both sides of the aisle, we get the same? >> i think the american people have bought into a very reassuring story. the government knows exactly how to protect us from terrorism. all the things we started to do on september 12, 2001, are exactly the right things. the government can be trusted, there is nothing wrong. there is no problem. people would like to believe that. i think that what we need to do is we need to take agencies under the constitution. we, the people, are the government. president bush said, i am the
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decider. he is not the decider. we are the deciders. if our elected representatives thought that they are not going to get reelected by giving us procedural is, they will get reelected by having intelligent discussions with us. i think that is how power -- i think that is our part. tavis: president bush might not have been that far off. he was the decider. obama is the decider. >> that is exactly the problem. 10 years later, it is about time for -- is about time for us to take our power. it was an emergency measure. it really does become the normal. tavis: i want to get a practical answer. how would be overturn any of this? how do we undo what has been done?
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americans are more fearful than ever before. everybody knows it is not a matter of if we will get hit again, it is when we will get hit again. we can celebrate 10 years all we want, everybody knows it is just a matter of time before it happens again. no security expert feels differently. when that kind of fear is palpable, how did the american people get traction on trying to overturn this stuff? >> you have to start with the things that are being done better not an effective, too costly -- being done that are ineffective. there is an aclu report. it was all about this whole campaign against the charities. not many people in this country are that aware of what was done to the muslim charities. this is something in other countries that people are quite aware of. what is happened since then, because muslims were being
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targeted, that report describes how fbi agents were in their mosques all of a sudden. they were at their doors to say, who are you giving money to? to the point where the muslims who were being interviewed described how they were feeling quite alienated. they did not really want to have to cooperate. he set up a situation where people who would really like to be your allies start seeing our law enforcement efforts as illegitimate. people in other countries would like to cooperate, there were some situations where our country said, that organization should be blacklisted. they're doing terrible things. we would send that information to another country, like canada. there was one person in the canada ministry of justice and
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there was no evidence. it is not just that we need to do more things to be safe. we hope the government is doing the right things. people have the idea, that must be keeping a safe. we have reason to believe that some of these things are ineffective and counterproductive. tavis: i do want to ask about some other issues beyond terrorism. since you raised it, what is your sense of how this war on terror, which has been synonymous with a reduction in our civil liberties, attack on our civil liberties, how has that been used around the globe? what is being said around us -- what is being said about us? we are trying to export
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democracy around the world. your book reminds us that we had an erosion of american democracy here at town. >> we would like to be better role models. the areas that i just described. that is one where there is an aclu report. for the most part, we do not really have resources to do opinion tracking around the globe. one thing that is interesting is that there was a report done by the international commission, they set up a panel . they spent three years traveling the globe talking to countries you have had trouble with terrorism, including the united states, israel, argentina. talking to the about how they have changed their laws. their conclusions are quite critical of the united states and other countries, too.
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their primary conclusion is that terrorism is not that exceptional problem. it does not really warrant a country like the united states rowing aside an entire structure of law -- throwing aside an entire structure of law. they thought the countries that did the best and confronting the threat of terrorism or the countries that stuck to their own concept of the rule of law. tavis: if the american people are willing to accept this erosion of their democracy in the name of being safer, what do you do? >> i am trying to do some education. we are trying to say to people, this is not a zero sum game between liberty and security. you can be both safe and free. you could amend some of these
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provisions and they would be much better. the surveillance provisions, that they take both of the ideas in the fourth amendment. the framers of the constitution in the fourth amendment started to different ideas. the government -- for the government to rescue or search your home, they have to have a good reason. second of all, they have to convince a court that they are right. it is like getting a second opinion. that is the baseline. the patriot act moves the government surveillance power beyond the baseline. do we need to do that? no, we do not. what the aclu argues about these provisions, just more oversight. what we need to do is we need to go to court, get a second opinion, and at that point, we have some sort of assurance that the government is not going to
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be using that power and an arbitrary manner. there are a lot of reasons to believe some of the stories -- the government keeping a special law on people because they're muslims or because they have been political activists. that is the worry. if you give all of the power into one set of hands, with no oversight, that is a recipe for abuse. government's powers, let's have appropriate oversight and checks and balances and accountability. tavis: there are two or three cases in chicago right now where these out of control measures are being educated in the media, even as we speak. -- adjudicated in the media, even as we speak. i want to do justice to the
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text. there are a number of issues that we are struggling with. let me start with immigration rights. the aclu's position on the debate we're having now about rights. >> there have been a number of laws in a number of states that have passed. the state is trying to take decisions away from the federal government. we opposed block in arizona. what happens in arizona, stays in arizona. it did not work out that way. then we went to alabama. this idea of racial profiling against muslims. the aclu recently put out a report called "three faces of racial profiling."
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id used -- in addition to driving while black, we have flying small muslim and going to school while latino. the aclu has challenged the alabama and the arizona outlaws. more success in arizona and alabama. those are not american values. to invite people to profile children. we're hearing stories about little children walking to school by themselves because their parents are afraid to drive them to school because they're afraid they will be stopped or targeted because they are latino. that is not what we're about as a nation. we are a nation of immigrants. tavis: there have been a lot of articles written of late about the attack on the voting rights of all kinds of americans. these attacks are bound to have a particular impact on communities of color.
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>> we just started a campaign called liberty watch leading up to the election. we are nonpartisan, but we want to make sure that people are able to vote. there are a number of measures. what is wrong with having an idea? my mother is 93 and she does not have a driver's license. the people who are affected by these requirements are people who are elderly, people who are disabled, people who do not have an id. a lot of the states are saying, this is to prevent voter fraud. most of these states, there have never been examples of voter fraud. we have a network of over 50 affiliate's all over the country. whenever anything happens that vote, weke a suppressed bu are trying to challenge. tavis: are we gaining or losing
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ground with regard to women's rights? the republicans are debating this issue a lot. >> i think is really interesting. it depends on what you're benchmark is. we have made a lot of ground if you go far enough back. we have been working -- there are some second generation statutes. there is still a lot of work to be done in that area. tavis: i am glad to have you on. the book is called "taking liberties: the war on terror and the erosion of american democracy." written by susan herman, the president of the aclu. good to have you on the program. thank you for sharing your insights. that is our show for tonight. thank you for watching. keep the faith.
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>> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org. tavis: hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for a conversation with .florence henderson we will see you then. >> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. it's the cornerstone we all know. it's not just a street or boulevard, but a place where walmart stands together with your community to make every day better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and every answer, nationwide insurance is proud to join tavis in working to improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economicmp eowerment one conversation at a time. nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television]
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