Over at the Poynter Foundation, they have the transcribed text of Ted Koppel's address to UC Berkeley grads (you have to page down a bit to get to it). It is riveting, especially this part, in which Koppel predicts the US will be hit with a WMD terrorist attack “in the next few years” which will “more than likely” lead to the imposition of martial law. Koppel warns, “For how long and under what circumstances it would be lifted again has not, to the best of my knowledge, ever been publicly addressed” and he calls for an urgent debate about “What we will do after the next terrorist attack”.
[Note: The Poynter web site seems to be set up to redirect internal links to Romenesko's Misc. Forum to their front page. If this happens to you, to find the Koppel speech, click here; you'll still have to page down to find it, but (for now at least) that's the right page. Or you can just read the extended quote below.]
We have become so embroiled in the distaste we have for one another's ideologies that we are losing sight of the real peril that confronts us. Iraq had nothing to do with the attacks on 9/11, and invoking the war against terrorism for the U.S. invasion of Iraq invites skepticism. Still, terrorism is not a figment of this administration's imagination. It doesn't matter what you believe the United States is doing or may have done to earn the enmity of so many people around the world; someone has to be thinking about the consequences of that hatred, even as we consider what can reasonably done to address it. It now appears that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq at the time that U.S. forces invaded. But chemical, biological, and even nuclear weapons do exist, and some do exist in the hands of our enemies. Do not doubt for a moment that at some point in the next few years that one or another of those weapons will almost surely be used in an act of terrorism against the United States in the United States. Then the time for discussing our civil liberties will be over. More than likely the use of a chemical or biological weapon in a terrorist attack against the U.S. homeland would lead to the imposition of martial law. For how long and under what circumstances it would be lifted again has not, to the best of my knowledge, ever been publicly addressed. But understand that the most implacable enemy of our civil liberties is fear: What we will do after the next terrorist attack is not a conversation that should be deferred. The time for that national debate is now. As important as it may be to argue over the rights of Iraqi prisoners of war, those horrific photographs have largely obscured the context in which the abuses took place. The perceived need to obtain more and better intelligence in the face of a mounting Iraqi insurgency late last fall created the environment in which those human-rights abuses took place. It is quite extraordinary that so much attention is being focused on the culpability of a bunch of young military police when they in fact were clearly operating under guidelines that had been set much, much further up the command chain. [Applause] It is the legitimacy of those guidelines that require public discussion. And yet, what have we been debating for these past few months? The nature of George W. Bush's service in the Air National Guard more than 30 years ago, while he was working on a senatorial campaign in Alabama? The value of John Kerry's military service in Vietnam once he'd appeared at the same antiwar rally as Jane Fonda? What madness! Do we really believe we can rise to the great challenges that confront us by endlessly questioning one another's motives and patriotism? There are decisions that will be addressed or ignored over the next few months that will set the course of human and civil rights in this country for years to come. There is a direct correlation between the perception of threats to America's security and the contraction of our rights and freedoms. We need to critically examine the nature and scope of those threats, and where they exist we must be prepared to calibrate our rights, and even our freedoms. If we fail to do that now, in a time of relative sanity when it is still possible for voices of moderation to be heard, then we will have condemned ourselves to having those choices made in a climate of national hysteria.
There's a strong temptation to resist this sort of thinking as tin-foil-hat stuff, but Koppel has always seemed like a serious person… So here are my initial questions:
- Is Koppel right, or is this the voice of someone conditioned to expect WMD attacks by repetition of duck and cover exercises in his youth?
- Even if Koppel is right, is this a conversation we would want to have, or would it legitimate the extra-constitutional governance?
- Can anyone seriously believe that if Congress legislates on this (1) it would produce anything helpful; (2) some President won't abuse the authority? (Think, 'War Powers Act'.)
- If we can't trust Congress to take up this challenge, what other mechanisms are there?
I don’t know that it takes much tin foil. The use of biological and nuclear weapons in a terrorist act is not a question of “if” but of “when.” And the US, at present, seems a likely target. I think the question will not be the government’s response, but the response of the average citizen. Although we certainly see counter-examples, I have a feeling that most Americans will come together when they are attacked, and that we won’t panic. I generally have little trust in the public at large, but I hope and pray that this is the case. If it is, control need only be asserted to the extent that it is asserted now during national disasters.
I am less optimistic about the aftermath. In my home town, we’re detaining art teachers and ministers for saying the wrong things. The response after 9/11 has, in my opinion, done irreparable harm to the nation. The real damage to the US came not in our hurt pride, and not, even, in the horrible death and destruction, but in what we have done to ourselves as a country since.
Ted may be a very proffesional media proffesional but I’d hardly want to use him as my expert on this particular problem. But, to whom do we turn? Are we each expected to puzzle this out ourselves? We have entered a period when we have a problem but we lack any trusted group of proffesionals who we can carefully observe attempting to puzzle out a solution. The national media keeps treating it as a sporting event or a subplot the national political dispute.