Ending America’s war-time justice system
The debate about Edward Snowden continues to play out among legal scholars, national security officials, citizens, and the media. The focus on Snowden is understandable given his role as catalyst, but his behavior is the product of broader social forces. Rapid technological change and our war-time justice system created the situation that led him and others in the intelligence community to do questionable things. This contentious episode is an opportunity to repair our justice system together as a nation through a truth and reconciliation process. We must be intellectually and emotionally honest with each other and ourselves, using this disruptive moment to make our country stronger.
We still bear the emotional scars of 9/11. Those who conspired to commit those heinous crimes are nearly all dead or captured, yet new violent criminals voice the same hatreds and threats against our society, so we remain wary. Our fear and anger over the last thirteen years have led us to do many things that are illegal under our own laws and Constitution, both in letter and spirit. Of course, the American justice system has never operated as well in practice as in theory. But a clear pattern of erosion has been occurring, as always does in times of war: President Lincoln suspended the writ of Habeas Corpus during the Civil War, President Roosevelt authorized the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII, and the FBI conducted illegal surveillance on American citizens during the Vietnam War.