Former Attorney General John Ashcroft (left, photo by Ryan J. Reilly) won the Defender of the Constitution Award Friday afternoon at this year's CPAC, right before a panel discussion, called Does Security Trump Freedom?
Moderated by the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLU) Chief Counsel Dr. Jay Sekulow, panelists included former Congressman Bob Barr, California Representative Dan Lungren, former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore, and Georgetown University Law Professor Viet Dinh.
Bob Barr, a Board Member of the National Rifle Association and Patrick Henry Center for Individual LIberty, began his comments by plugging the film "The Book of Eli", which he happily found to be pro-Bible.
Barr (right, with Dinh, courtesy Washington Post) noted that when he speaks in Britain, folks there, especially their college kids, tell him that they wish the UK had a written constitution like we do. Barr maintained that Ronald Reagan would oppose any legislation that puts security over freedom.
Barr prefers civilian trials for terrorists, and considers waterboarding to be torture. I must note he had a large Libertarian cheering section in the audience, made up of mostly 18-23 year old college kids, imported in on buses. The group was known as "Campaign for Liberty" and was working hard to raise money. They even had a pep rally Friday evening, in a large private room, behind closed doors.
Rep. Dan Lungren noted that as California Governor, Reagan supported tough anti-crime measures to preserve domestic security. Lungren argued that you can't have freedom without having to have security. He maintained Al Qaeda and its allies don't hate us because of Guantanamo Bay. They hate us because of the Statue of Liberty.
Lungren, opposing Barr, believes (as I do) that foreign terrorists should be tried by military tribunals instead of civilian jury trials. He supports waterboarding, and agrees with Katy and me in that "we must prevent another 9/11-style atrocity to prevent an inevitable backlash against indivdual freedom". He persuasively maintained that the Constitution allows us to defend ourselves. " It's not a suicide pact".
Jim Gilmore, now President and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation, opposed the federal stimulus bills and auto/bank bailouts, considering them an overreach by government. However, he supports wiretaps and government eavesdropping when necessary, including those measures as laid out in the Patriot Act, as long as they are supported by judicial revew.
He opposes the government logging/tracking your Internet usage without judicial fiat. Gilmore thinks terrorists captured on foreign battlefields should receive military tribunals, but that terrorists caught on US soil should have civilian trials. He believes the Patriot Act has been effective.
Viet Dinh had served as Assistant Attorney General from 2001-2003 during the Bush administration. Born in Saigon in 1968 (in the same city I was, and one year later), Dinh managed to escape communist Vietnam and flee to America in 1978.
Dinh maintains the Patriot Act has been very successful. That's why the Act continues to be renewed. Dinh agrees that the purpose of government is freedom, not security. However, security is a needed condition to achieve freedom. Dinh asked "What is freedom? Unbridled individuality? No. It's structured liberty that achieves virtue."
He offered a brilliant analysis about how actions have consequences. Dinh insists US laws support using military commissions to try terrorists, who are akin to war criminals. Dinh said America's great gifts to the world are our institutions and principles. He related global Jihadist terrorism as today's overarching threat against freedom, like Nazism used to be in the first half of the last century.
John Ashcroft then said our Founding Fathers would be pleased by this civil, intelligent, and transparent debate. He noted how the US government tried and hanged Nazi spies who were US citizens, during WWII, via closed military tribunals. Ashcroft argued that our anti-terror laws need to be clear so that the government knows how to properly and legally keep us safe.
Rob Benningfield is loving husband of your blogger and is at CPAC helping to write stories for KCC.
He received both an undergraduate and graduate degree from North Carolina State University's College of Engineering and currently works as a senior systems engineer at an international telecommunications company, where he's been for nearly 20 years.
See also: John Ashcroft Gets Mixed Reaction at CPAC by Ryan J. Reilly
Thanks to: Erick Erickson at RedState, who brought you this coverage from CPAC2010. Without RedState, KCC wouldn't have been able to bring you the photos, video, and words. Check them out. They have their collective fingers on the pulse of the national political scene.