03/29/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Give Me Liberty or Give Me the Republican Platform

Scott Brown's election in the Mass. special election isn't being attributed to a repudiation of the health care legislation, but rather his Patrick Henry-like statement to the effect: 'Give us weapons to defeat the terrorists, not lawyers to defend them.' The Republicans apparently see this as a rallying cry that may restore them to power. Gov. Bob McDonnell already quoted it in his response to the President's State of the Union speech:

McDonnel's speech falsely suggests that the administration has made a choice between the two and has decided to provide rights to terrorists rather than fight them. Apparently one trial of a terrorist in New York outweighs sending 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. Conservatives seem to believe that the government cannot walk and chew gum at the same time. But the fact is that we can fight terrorism and at the same time preserve the rights and liberties which the terrorists are so intent on destroying.

The Republicans have notched wins over the years charging that the Democrats and their appointed judges are "soft on crime." This is just a switcharoo on that slogan. It is now a charge of "soft on terrorism." As I have said in an earlier post, terrorists are hybrids. They are enemy combatants and/or criminals. I believe that the choice to treat some of them as criminals and accord them rights unavailable in military commissions was a symbolic one -- one which conveys to the rest of the world that we are willing to accord constitutional rights even to those who wish to destroy us.

I can understand the disagreement and even anger over such a decision. But the decision cannot and should not be judged based upon a case in which the evidence against the accused appears to be overwhelming. Approximately 450 detainees at Guantanamo have been freed without charges. A number were determined not to be terrorists despite their long detention and lack of rights. If you think of the possibility of innocence rather than the presumption of guilt, the decision to accord a hearing and rights may not appear so offensive. We cannot decide how much process to accord based on how strong the case is, trying the possibly-innocent in courts, and the probably-guilty in military commissions. Our justice system cannot function is this fashion.

I can remember in my grade school days (way back then) when the lawyers who defended liberties and the rights of the accused were our heroes. We respected them because they not only defended their clients, but they defended the system and the rights that it guaranteed. Suggesting that the granting of rights to suspected terrorists hurts the country may bring some momentary political advantage, but in the long run it will erode the very things that we are fighting to protect.