Monday, April 09, 2007

The Use of Extraordinary Powers

There has been considerable commentary around the blogs on this story. The story concerns Professor Walter F. Murphy, emeritus of Princeton University who is certainly among the most distinguished scholars of public law in political science. While attempting to travel by air, he was detained for being on a watch list. Now the man is not only the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence (emeritus) but he is also a retired Marine colonel having fought in Korean War and served for an additional 19 years in the reserves. The heart of the story is this bit, from the Professor
I presented my credentials from the Marine Corps to a very polite clerk for American Airlines. One of the two people to whom I talked asked a question and offered a frightening comment: "Have you been in any peace marches? We ban a lot of people from flying because of that." I explained that I had not so marched but had, in September, 2006, given a lecture at Princeton, televised and put on the Web, highly critical of George Bush for his many violations of the Constitution. "That'll do it," the man said. "

A rather frightening reason for an American, especially a distinguished and heroic American, to be on a watch list. As I say, a number of people have commented on it including Josh Marshall and Mark Kleiman among others.

I just want to add that this points up my opinion that the use of these powers, watch lists, arbitrary detention and the like do not serve the interests of public security but only the personal security of the government officials granted these powers. The kinds of power that George Bush and the conservatives are claiming have very little value for aiding the government is providing security (indeed these powers may, even in the most honest of hands, be detrimental). The purpose they do serve is to make it possible for the government official to keep his position, and his power, even if he fails to provide the security he is supposed to provide. That is why this nation does not provide such power to government officials and why, as a consequence, we have grown to be so powerful and secure.

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