Constitution Daily

Smart conversation from the National Constitution Center

Dick Allen, Deborah Pearlstein address national security post-bin Laden

May 9, 2011 by Karen Gross


The National Constitution Center drew nearly 200 guests to a timely, provocative discussion on national security and civil liberties featuring leading experts Richard V. Allen and Deborah Pearlstein. The free public program had heightened relevance following the death of Osama bin Laden and provided an opportunity to examine topics including national security measures since 9/11 and U.S. policy surrounding bin Laden’s demise including the release of photographs.

Richard V. Allen

Allen served as President Richard Nixon’s foreign policy coordinator and President Ronald Reagan’s first national security adviser, and he currently serves as a member of the U.S. Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee.

Pearlstein is a visiting faculty fellow in national security and international human rights at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and also serves as an associate research scholar at the Woodrow Wilson School for Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.

Here are a few key insights:

On the war on terror after bin Laden’s death:

Richard V. Allen: We must now in my view move to decapitate the second, third and fourth echelons to the extent that we can identify them and find them one by one if necessary or en masse -- the rest of that outfit -- in order to convince those who are the followers that this is a losing game.

Deborah Pearlstein: … [A]re we really comfortable with the notion of global armed conflict between the United States and Al Qaeda such that whether our target is sitting in Pakistan, whether he’s sitting in Afghanistan or whether he’s sitting in a remote rural area of Wyoming we can target them? Because that’s what the rules of the ‘law of war’ provide.

On the death of bin Laden and the release of photographs:

Richard V. Allen: If it’s not ‘who we are’ to release the photographs of Osama bin Laden—and I may agree with that, I think it’s probably unwise to release the photographs—but is it ‘who we are’ to shoot him in the head? Yes. This is a form of swift transitional justice which is a very complex topic and something that has been with us for a long time.

On trying terror suspects in criminal courts versus military commissions:

Deborah Pearlstein: “...And some members of Congress have now proposed legislation that would prohibit prosecuting any terrorist defendant in criminal courts under any circumstances. So this is something not even the Bush administration had proposed…Now the pendulum has swung even farther, and that’s where the debate on Capitol Hill stands, because the administration is not interested in getting into that debate for fear of losing it.”

On intelligence in the information age:

Richard V. Allen: I’m concerned about the steady dribble of information and leaks…Leaks are the enemy of mankind, at least of democracy.

On free speech and civil liberties in wartime:

Deborah Pearlstein: I’d like to think…we’ll protect our First Amendment rights; we’ll protect our Fourth Amendment rights effectively going forward. The trick is, as always, it depends what you mean by “we.” That is to say, we’re better at protecting the rights of the majority than we are protecting the rights of minorities.

Photos of the event are available on the Center's Flickr page. The full podcast and transcript are available here.


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