September 16, 2002

Final Sept. 11 Panel Discusses Effects on Society

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The final Sept. 11 panel discussion in Cornell’s “Reflections on 9/11” series was held Friday in Kennedy Hall’s Call Alumni Auditorium. This panel focused on the impact of the events of Sept. 11 on American society, specifically the effects on the civil liberties, the economy and children.

The panel was moderated by Patsy M. Brannon, the Rebecca Q. and James C. Morgan Dean of the College of Human Ecology. The panelists were Prof. Judith Ross-Bernstein, human development, Prof. Steve Shiffrin, law and Prof. Robert Frank, economics.

Brannon started the discussion by putting the impact of the Sept. 11 attacks into historical perspective.

“Unlike the Pearl Harbor attacks, which were on primarily military targets, these attacks last year were on unarmed civilians in the midst of their daily work and life on the continental U.S.,” she said.

She went on to point out that virtually every aspect of life was affected in some manner.

“The reverberations have really been profound,” she said, “not only in terms of how we feel but in terms of the ways we think about our work, our learning community, personal and family environments, and as someone who has set off more than her share of handheld wands this last year in airports, indeed the way we travel and how we recreate as a country.”

Shiffrin discussed the impact of Sept. 11 on civil liberties. He began by discussing the changes that have occurred since the attacks and the common criticisms of the Bush administration.

“The specific kinds of things that [the Bush administration] have done include secret deportation hearings, which even the Sixth Circuit has declared to be unconstitutional; military tribunals in cases where there should be civil trials with all sorts of deviations from ordinary constitutional protections in these trials; classifying people as prisoners of war, in violation of the Geneva accords,” he said.

“[They are] expanding the ability to conduct secret searches, wiretaps under the pretext sometimes of gathering foreign intelligence information in a detour around ordinary Fourth Amendment protections,” he continued.

Shiffrin noted that there have been civil liberty violations prior to the attacks.

“There are many things that are far worse than what has happened after 9/11,” he said in reference to the Supreme Court case California v. Greenwood.

The precedent established in this ruling was that if one gave any material to a third party, specifically garbage, then he or she would lose all expectations of the privacy of that material. The ruling allows the police to search trash without any probable cause or reasonable suspicion, according to Shiffrin.

“I talked to a prosecutor yesterday who told me, ‘You would be amazed by how much you can get by looking at the trash’,” he said.

This has also been applied to tracing checks, credit-card transactions, mail, e-mail, websites and library books without any need for a warrant, Shiffrin added. There are, however, statutes that require police to obtain a subpoena to conduct such searches. Shiffrin explained that it is not difficult to obtain subpoenas under these statutes.

“If the Fourth Amendment was designed to protect your privacy, and if all of this is outside the balance of the Fourth Amendment, that would suggest that your privacy and my privacy are not very well protected.”

Shiffrin then went on to point out statistics taken from recent polls. 49 percent of American people think that the First Amendment goes too far, a 10-percent increase since Sept. 11. Forty-seven percent of the American people also said they thought it was more important to “get every last terrorist in the United States” than to respect civil liberties.

Shiffrin ended his statements on an hopeful note.

“My view is that since Sept. 11, despite a rise in the number of people who are fearful and want civil liberties not to get in the way of the hunt to get terrorists, it is also the case that there is a strong group of people in the country, I suspect that many of you are here, who think that civil liberties ought to be protected and are willing to do more than half of this other half to protect it.”

Frank spoke about how the war on terror was being financed.

“The tradition when we have had a national emergency, particularly when we’re fighting a war, has been to pay for it out of a large deficit,” he said. “In a really big war we sometimes raise taxes; we did that during World War II.”

Frank observed that this was not the way to finance the war on terror, as it is not of the same nature of a normal war.

“There’s not a well-defined enemy whom we can actually declare victory against … this is really more like a police action attempting to contain crime,” he said.

Frank argued that payment has become more difficult as the federal budget’s projected surplus has vanished. In fact, the national deficit is projected at $3.3 trillion and the projected cost of the war over 10 years is $440 billion.

“Not only are we not raising taxes to pay for this increase in expenditure to fight terrorism, we are actually lowering taxes,” Frank said.

Frank observed that the best solution is to stop the repeal of the estate tax.

“The congressional joint committee on taxation estimated that in the first decade after the tax’s repeal it would cost $750 billion in revenue,” he said.

Ross-Bernstein discussed the effect of Sept. 11 on children and the manner in which parents can best aid their children in coping with these events.

“‘Can you keep me safe?’ I think we have to tell the children yes,” Ross-Bernstein said.

“I found the discussion was informative,” said Darin Dolezal ’06. “I thought that [Shiffrin]’s comments were especially interesting.”

Archived article by David Hillis