The attack on Dr. Tiller is widely referred to as “terrorism” in the blogosphere. Agree or not, it is easy to image an ongoing terrorist campaign run by fringe pro-lifers to shut down abortion clinics. Heaven forbid that this recent murder is followed by bombings at a few Planned Parenthood locations, but that scenario isn’t unthinkable — copycat atrocities are a sad fact of modern life.
Should something like that come to pass, I wonder how “War on Terror hawks” would react. My admittedly flawed term is meant to reference folks who believe the executive branch possesses broad unchecked powers to combat terrorism, including the designation of American citizens as enemy combatants, the indefinite detention of terror suspects, wiretapping phones without warrants, “enhanced interrogation techniques,” and other powers initially claimed by the Bush Administration and its defenders. Would these predominantly conservative officials, commentators and writers be comfortable if President Obama declared two or three extremist pro-lifers as “enemy combatants”? Should Pres. Obama have the prerogative to order the waterboarding of these uncharged, untried detainees? Should he be able to listen in on phone conversations originating from evangelical churches where suspected abortion extremists hang out? The answer is probably that different “War on Terror hawks” — anyone have a better term for this? — would react differently, but as a matter of law, it seems to me that if they’d gotten their way during the Bush Administration, President Obama would have the power to take all those steps and more, a prospect that is terrifying to me, not because I think our Commander in Chief is looking for a pretext to round up innocent pro-lifers, but because it doesn’t take many violent attacks before Americans start clamoring for a strong executive response, a dynamic that tends to erode liberties in previously unthinkable ways and spawn mistakes whereby innocents are made to suffer.