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On June 25th young people from across the US gathered in New York to debate whether the American Government has succeeded in protecting the liberty of its citizens and, more importantly, whether the means they've used to protect these liberties are justifiable.
The debate was held at Stuyvesant High School, the school closest to Ground Zero. But the purpose of 'Securing Liberty' is not just debating; the lesson is what we can learn from the terrible events of what was meant to be an ordinary September day, ten years ago.
IDEA's newest publication, Securing Liberty: Debating the Issues of Terrorism and Democratic Values in the Post-9/11 United States, was launched with the debate - and is available as a free resource and tool for high school students.
Now IDEA will be launching the next strand of 'Securing Liberty': bringing two teams of undergraduate students from around the world to New Orleans to take part in a live televised debate about the international implications of policy since 9/11.
We'll be telling you much more about that, and the rest of the exciting 'Securing Liberty' program, as we launch it here.
Report from the event, Audrey Denis
Excitement began to build as students, coaches, parents and judges gathered in the library of Stuyvesant High School in downtown New York City for the Securing Liberty Public Forum Round Robin on Saturday June 25. Eight high school teams, each made up of two students, registered from Sysosset, Hunter College High School, Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, Benjamin Cardozo, and Regis in New York, Montville High School in New Jersey, and Pine View all the way in Florida. Each student gave up their sunny, summer day to dress up in suits and debate about some of most pressing issues for their generation: what has become of civil liberties in the United States since 9/11.
The debate tournament accompanied the release of the book Securing Liberty, which inspired the topics debated: "Torture is a just means of combatting terrorism" and "Ethnic profiling is just means of combatting terrorism".
Students anxiously gathered around the schematics to see the first round pairings. The topic for the first round was torture, and it alternated for each of the preliminary rounds between torture and ethnic profiling. Teams, judges, parents, and spectators filed into classrooms to watch the rounds. Competitors flipped a coin to determine which team would take which side: pro or con.
Students in each of the rounds carefully weaved the grounds for their arguments explaining the criteria that should determine the judges' decisions, and why they had met it and their opponent had not. They engaged in heated crossfire as they consciously chose the words for each of their questions to expose the flaws in the other team's arguments. The topics they were debating were particularly challenging; justifying torture is no small feat. Still even those taking the pro-side of the torture and ethnic profiling debates identified that it was not an ideal situation, nor should it be taken lightly, but it is an aspect that needs to be considered when a country is at war. Judges were urged to set aside their personal opinions and focus on the strength of the arguments presented and rhetorical method each student used to convey their stance.
Throughout the day competitors, judges and others were interviewed. They were asked questions about their opinions on the topics being debated, their own memories of 9/11 and what they think they will see, but also hope to see, in regards to US policy towards terrorism and civil liberties in the next 5 and 10 years. The judges identified the importance of discussing these issues, and recalled America before they had to take off their shoes in the airport. For most of the competitors though, they were just six, seven, and eight years old when 9/11 happened. The only America they can really remember is the post 9/11 country, paralyzed by fear and misunderstanding.
This only makes debating the topics that much more important, so that students can think critically about how the US has changed, and also how it should change in the future. Although they were young when 9/11 occurred, their comments were both thoughtful and hopeful.
The location of the debate was both solemn and appropriate considering that Stuyvesant High school is located just blocks from where the Twin Towers once stood.
After three preliminary rounds, the four teams with the most wins proceeded to the semi-final round. Regis, Shane Regan and Brian Cronin, and Montville, Neville Dusa and Deep Dheri, won their respective semis and entered the final round. They debated ethnic profiling of Muslims as a tactic to make America safer. The final round boasted a high profile judging panel: Clyde Haberman of the New York Times, David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker Magazine, Irene Chang-Cimino, former General Counsel and Secretary for the Lower Manhattan Development Council and current General Counsel of Seedco. While both teams presented strong cases, ultimately on a 2-1 decision, Montville was declared the champion of the tournament.
Following the final round, judges, parents, and students were invited to dinner at a nearby restaurant. More than thirty-five people from the tournament ate at two large tables, and even though it had been a long day there was an atmosphere of liveliness and a feeling of accomplishment as people discussed the day.