BOULDER, Colo. –
Cathryn Hazouri says it’s a strange time for civil liberties advocates.
Hazouri, who heads the Colorado chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, will moderate a Conference on World Affairs panel Monday titled “Civil Liberties: What, Me Worry?”
On the one hand, she said, there’s relief at the end of the Bush administration, which critics blamed for a range of civil liberties and human rights violations, particularly regarding practices employed during the War on Terror.
Since Bush left office, Hazouri said, the number of people who felt motivated to send her organization money has declined by half since the election.
“People aren’t as worried right now,” she said. “But I’m not sure that’s the right tack to take.”
While the Obama administration has made some encouraging moves — such as pledging to close the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba — there have been worrying signs, too, Hazouri said. Civil liberties advocates were dismayed recently when officials in Obama’s Justice Department adopted their predecessors’ arguments in a state secrets case, for example.
“A lot of people are sort of holding their breath at this point,” she said.
Panelist Chip Berlet, who works on civil liberties issues for Political Research Associates in Somerville, Mass., said few political leaders begin their tenure intending to break the law.
“It’s tough, because of course once an administration gets into office, the tools of surveillance and perks and power of executive authority look pretty good,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for over 30 years. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, you start saying you’re not going to abuse the Constitution.”
But without pressure from the public, he said, those promises won’t get kept.
“There are structures and institutions that keep using these tools, and unless they are scrutinized, they’re going to keep doing what they’ve always done, which is violate the First Amendment and justify it with whatever their particular ideological worldview tends to be.”
Contact Camera Staff Writer Ryan Morgan at 303-473-1333 or firstname.lastname@example.org.