David K. Shipler is the author of The Rights of the People: How Our Search for Safety Invades Our Liberties (Knopf). The second volume, Rights at Risk: The Limits of Liberty in Modern America (Knopf), will be published in 2012. He writes online at The Shipler Report.
The abuse of the Constitution that followed September 11, 2001, was neither surprising nor inevitable. It was not a surprise, because it wasn't the first time in American history—but the sixth, by my count—that fundamental rights had been violated during spasms of fear over national security. It was not inevitable, because prominent voices might have called the country back to its principles. There is no telling whether such appeals would have stood against the tide, but one man's words did make a difference in the emergency command center at FBI headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue several hours after the attacks.