How ‘National Security’ Leads to Tyranny: The Libertarian Angle

Libertarian Case Against the National Security State

February 23, 2015—Civil liberties and national security are forever at odds. Is there a balance? That’s the topic on this episode of The Libertarian Angle with Jacob Hornberger and Sheldon Richman, respectively the president and vice-president of the Future of Freedom Foundation.

Richman likens a policy of regime change to the popular game, Jenga:

“But when you do that it’s like you’re playing this game Jenga, which is this tower game, where you’re pulling out pieces and the object is to not have the whole thing topple over. It’s like playing that after you’ve had a few beers so you’re not terribly careful, and you don’t know what pulling what piece out is going to cause the whole thing to topple. That’s a pretty good picture of what happneed in Iraq.”

Hornberger verifies Richman’s point with an observation of they type of government the US military helped deliver to Iraq:

“Nothing changes. The identity of the people that are being tortured and incarcerated and killed, they’re different but in a sense it becomes the same type of totalitarian regime.

The US could’ve gone in there and said, Look, we understand there are going to be people doing what people were trying to do to Saddam Hussein, they’re going to try to overthrow this new foreign-installed regime. So you need a military to deal with that. But at the same time they could’ve said, because they had cart blanche to set up any government they wanted, they could’ve said, Look at the principles that the United States stands for as far as criminal justice is concerned. The standard murders, rapes, thieves and violent type crimes and they could’ve said, Look at the idea of due process of law, trial by jury, right to counsel, right to be free from cruel and unusual punishments, I mean these are our principles that Americans fought for.

Yet when they go into Iraq, they don’t set up that kind of system at all. Instead the military, which consists of both the US and the Iraqi military but primarily the Iraq military, was ingrained with the ideas that you’re now the enforcers of criminal justice. You can go and arrest anybody. They didn’t set up any kind of system. They didn’t teach them about judicial warrants.”

Hornberger sees another example of how the national security state exhibits its animosity to rule of law:

The whole thing is a charade. Notice what kind of system they set up in Guantanamo when they’re free to do whatever they want. It’s a system that is exactly opposite to the system that exists here in the United States. No trial by jury, I mean these are kangaroo tribunals. You’ve got no right to speedy trial, there’s people that have been there for 13 years without trial. Now they have a right to counsel but that’s only because the Supreme Court finally said, No, you’re not going to get away with this, we’re going to have jurisdiction here, these people do have a right to an attorney. These are criminal prosecutions for terrorism.

Richman evokes the libertarian view of history as a struggle between individual liberty and the state:

“Our liberties are at stake. We need to constantly be raising this issue and pointing out how, to the extent they can, they will ignore what’s written down on parchment, what Madison called ‘parchment barriers’ and they will ignore it or engage in all kinds of convoluted reasoning to claim that what they’re doing is perfectly consistent with it. They’ll always make arguments like that.”

Do you think the libertarian argument is persuasive? Share your thoughts in the comments.

More Libertarian Angle episodes:
Police Brutality and Blowback
The War on Drugs
Loving America: Too Much of a Bad Thing?