Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Kelly are doing the people of New York and the people of Iraq a great service by delaying and obstructing the antiwar protest planned for February 15. The longer they delay in granting the protesters a permit, the less time the organizers have to get their turnout organized, and the smaller the crowd is likely to be. And we wouldn't want to overstate the matter, but, at some level, the smaller the crowd, the more likely that President Bush will proceed with his plans to liberate Iraq. And the more likely, in that case, that the Iraqi people will be freed and the citizens of New York will be rescued from the threat of an Iraqi-aided terrorist attack.
In a federal court action filed yesterday, the New York Civil Liberties Union, representing the anti-war protesters, cites the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The court action seeks a court injunction that would allow the protesters to march down First Avenue near the United Nations. "A central part of the February 15 event is to convey a message to the United Nations about opposition to any war against Iraq," the complaint filed yesterday says. But the right of peaceable assembly in the Constitution refers to the right "to petition the government for a redress of grievances." The protesters would be on stronger ground if they wanted to convey a message to the U.S. Mission to the United Nations — if, in other words, if they were petitioning the government, not the U.N.
The protesters probably do have a claim under the right to free speech. Never mind that it's not the speech that the city is objecting to — it's the marching in the streets, blocking traffic, and requiring massive police protection.
So long as the protesters are invoking the Constitution, they might have a look at Article III. That says, "Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court."
There can be no question at this point that Saddam Hussein is an enemy of America. Iraq was the only Arab-Muslim country that did not condemn the September 11 attacks against the United States. A commentary of the official Iraqi station on September 11 stated that America was "…reaping the fruits of [its] crimes against humanity." A government employee in Iraq reacted to the loss this month of the space shuttle Columbia by telling Reuters, "God is avenging us."
And there is no reason to doubt that the "anti-war" protesters — we prefer to call them protesters against freeing Iraq — are giv ing, at the very least, comfort to Saddam Hussein. In a television interview aired this week, Saddam said, "First of all we admire the development of the peace movement around the world in the last few years. We pray to God to empower all those working against war and for the cause of peace and security based on just peace for all." After the last big anti-war protest, the one in Washington last month, Saddam hailed the anti-war protests as proof that Americans back Iraq rather than President Bush. "They are supporting you because they know that evildoers target Iraq to silence and dissenting voice to their evil and destructive policies," Saddam told senior officers, including his son Qusay, commander of the Republican Guard.
So the New York City police could do worse, in the end, than to allow the protest and send two witnesses along for each participant, with an eye toward preserving at least the possibility of an eventual treason prosecution. Thus fully respecting not just some, but all of the constitutional principles at stake.
To those concerned about civil liberties, we'd cite the pragmatic argument made last night by, of all people, the New York Times's three-time Pulitzer-Prize winning foreign affairs columnist, Thos. Friedman. "I believe we are one more 9/11 away from the end of the open society," Mr. Friedman told an American Jewish Committee dinner honoring the chief executive of the New York Times Company, Russell Lewis. His point was that if terrorists strike again at America and kill large numbers of Americans, the pressure to curb civil liberties and civil rights will be "enormous and unstoppable." What we took from that was that the more successful the protesters are in making their case in New York, the less chance they'll have the precious constitutional freedom to protest here the next time around.