Saturday, July 21, 2007

Book review: In Defense of Our America

Reading last week that Deceivin’ Steven planned to reintroduce anti-terrorism legislation that was defeated in the spring as a political wedge issue reminded me I needed to write a review of In Defence of Our America: The Right for Civil Liberities in the Age of Terror.

It was written by Anthony D Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and journalist Dina Temple-Raston. Its narrative format is interesting. Rather than telling each case in one self-contained chapter of its own, it intermixes and tells each story in pieces throughout the book.

And I found all the cases selected, of the government impugning the civil liberties of Americans, whether for reasons of national security or reasons of race, to be both fascinating and disturbing. Some of the cases will be more familiar than others.

Probably the most well known will the that of John Walker Lindh, better known as the American Taliban. Speaking to Lindh’s family, friends and Lindh himself, the authors chart how Lindh came to Afghanistan from suburban California, the abuses he suffered at the hands of U.S. authorities once he was captured, and the politically-motivated process that “brought him to justice.”

Probably also familiar will be the case of the prisoners left behind in New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina, but the depth of what they went for, the break-down of the justice system, and the corruption and incompetence of the authorities is really something.

A number of other interesting stories are also told, such as that of a gay teen who received a much tougher sentence because of his sexual orientation, the college anti-war activist spied-on by the military, and the fight for abortion rights in South Dakota.

Also very interesting was the moral and legal battle in Dover, Pennsylvania where a tough as nails biology teacher fought back against the school board’s push to teach “intelligent design” in the classroom, and the well-funded right-wing groups exerting pressure behind the scenes.

What these stories make clear is that the fight for civil rights is far from over, indeed, it is being waged harder than ever before. In the age of terrorism civil liberties are under threat perhaps more than ever before in the name of security. I’d recommend giving this book a read, perhaps some of these stories can serve as cautionary tales as this debate prepares to begin once more.

A review copy of the book provided by the publisher helped facilitate this review.

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