Securing Liberty

Clyde Haberman, New York Times journalist, David Remnick, Editor of the New Yorker, and Irene Chang-Cimino, President of Seedco, judge the debates

The tenth anniversary of 9/11 has passed, but while Osama bin Laden's assassination has closed one chapter in history, larger questions about the consequences of that day remain.

Ten years on, IDEA has launched a new programme, 'Securing Liberty' which will challenge high school students in the US, and from around the world, to reflect on: What individual liberties are we comfortable to forgo for the sake of national security? What liberties are we obliged to forgo? Is the government ever right to demand that kind of sacrifice from us?

To launch 'Securing Liberty', IDEA hosted a round robin debate tournament on June 25th in New York City. Students from across the country considered issues of torture and ethnic profiling, asking alternately: whether torture is a just means of preventing terrorism; and whether ethnic profiling is a just means of combating it. The USA PATRIOT Act was passed only a month after 9/11: Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism.

This laid the foundations for how the War on Terror was to be fought.

The Act swiftly undermined many individual liberties, giving law enforcement agencies greater powers over surveillance, the collection of information and the detention and treatment of suspected terrorists. Prior to 9/11, using 'enhanced interrogation' as a means of gathering intelligence simply wasn't considered; "Since the end of the eighteenth century, nearly every civilized society and moral system […] has regarded torture as an unmitigated evil, the moral prohibition against which was to be regarded as absolute."Yet the Patriot Act suddenly meant that it became lawful.

As police and security forces found themselves stretched further and further, there was a greater need to focus efforts on to those people statistically more likely to commit terror acts. The religious and cultural criteria surrounding terror threats to the US meant that these methods have been substantially controversial: are we allowed to single people out simply because of the color of their skin or the country they have come from? What effect does it have on the people being singled out? Ethnic profiling has always been a thorny issue, but the last ten years have been particularly difficult.

High school students across the globe have grown up in a post 9/11 world: a world where America's reaction to terror threats has made a deep impact on individual freedoms. Bin Laden has certainly left his mark on America; now he's dead, is it time to reconsider? It is definitely time to discuss these issues with those high school students who have never known a different world, but who will be the arbiters of our democratic future.

Information About the Partners of the Initiative

Open Society Foundations ::
National Forensics League ::
International Debate Education Association ::
Princeton Whig-Cliosophic Society ::