To civil-liberties alarmists, Viet Dinh is a traitor. To me, he is an American hero. Dinh, 35, is widely known — and reviled — as the primary architect of the Patriot Act. Until May, he was an assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Policy in John Ashcroft’s Justice Department. (He stepped down to return to his law school post at Georgetown University.) Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Dinh told The Christian Science Monitor, “our nation’s ability to defend itself against terror has been not only my vocation but my obsession.” This past Fourth of July holiday, I will give thanks for those like Dinh who have worked tirelessly to ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, and secure the blessings of liberty that no other country in the world can match. A constitutional law expert, Dinh’s office had been mostly concerned with judicial nominations before Sept. 11. After the mass murder of 3,000 men, women and children on American soil, Dinh became an instrumental member of the brain trust that designed the Bush administration’s anti-terrorism policies. Most importantly, the Patriot Act revised outdated rules that fatally hampered surveillance of suspected terrorists in America. Dinh also helped craft plans to monitor the entry and exit of foreign students and to register and track non-immigrant visitors from high-risk Middle Eastern countries. An immigrant himself who escaped from communist Vietnam a quarter-century ago aboard a rickety boat, Dinh notes that foreign visitors to our shores are guests obligated to obey the laws — some which “have not been enforced for 50 years.” It was time, Dinh and his colleagues decided, to start enforcing them. The results speak for themselves:
Opponents of the Bush administration’s homeland defense and immigration enforcement efforts complain that the war on terror has eviscerated civil liberties and constitutional rights. They have falsely portrayed the Patriot Act as allowing the feds to spy on library patrons without a warrant or criminal suspicion — a lie perpetuated by the truth-challenged New York Times. They have hysterically compared the detention of illegal aliens from terror-friendly countries to the World War II internment of Japanese. And they have likened Ashcroft, Dinh, and the Justice Department to the Taliban and Nazis. Never mind that the courts have so far upheld every major initiative and tactic from keeping immigration deportation hearings closed, to maintaining secrecy of the names of illegal alien detainees, to allowing use of the Patriot Act surveillance powers. Dinh is refreshingly unapologetic and to the point in response to the alarmists: “The threat to liberty comes from Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network, not from the men and women in blue who work to uphold the law.” Drawing on Edmund Burke’s theory of “Ordered Liberty,” which argues that liberty cannot be exercised unless government has first provided civil order, Dinh observes: “I think security exists for liberty to flourish and liberty cannot exist without order and security.” On July 4th, this fundamental lesson of Sept. 11 must not be forgotten. The charred earth, mangled steel, crashing glass, fiery chaos and eviscerated bodies are indelible reminders that the blessings of liberty in America do not secure themselves.