On Constitution Day, Talk of National Security

September 18, 2015 —

Since the events of September 11, 2001, the United States government has spent an estimated 4 trillion dollars fighting the war on terror. Yet because the work is classified, there is little public debate on how the money is spent. After the invasion of Iraq in 2003, $12 billion to $14 billion in cash from the Federal Reserve Bank in New York was airlifted into Baghdad — and much of it disappeared. Almost $2 billion may have ended up in Lebanon. But the American public does not know how or why.

What are the prospects for greater accountability and transparency in a continuing war on terror? What is the role of Congress and independent inspectors general in overseeing spending? Is this massive spending helping to keep Americans safe? And finally, what problems do journalists face when national security interests conflict with a free press? 

Those were four questions raised at the annual Constitution Day celebration on Sept. 17, presented by Georgetown Law’s Center on National Security and the Law and the Constitution Project. Professor Laura Donohue, director of the Georgetown center, led a panel discussion in Hart Auditorium with Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy; Mieke Eoyang, director of the national security program at Third Way; Michael Horowitz, inspector general for the Department of Justice; and Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter James Risen.

Virginia “Ginny” Sloan, president of the Constitution Project, awarded Risen the organization’s annual Constitutional Commentary Award for his work reporting on the post-9/11 national security state and his recent book Pay Any Price: Greed, Power and Endless War (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014). The book tells the story of greed and abuses of power in the post-9/11 era and the increasing reliance by U.S. government agencies on shadowy outside contractors.

“One of the things that I tried to explore in the book is how we got [to a point] where fear really drives our politics and policies…,” Risen said, pointing out that just the day before, 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed was arrested in Texas for bringing to school a homemade clock that officials feared was a bomb. “How do we deal with the underlying politics of fear — and conduct oversight of the government — at a time when people seem willing … to excuse a lot in the name of the war on terror?”

Georgetown Law Dean William M. Treanor noted that the event showcased the Law Center’s strengths both as a leader in national security law and as a forum for convening experts on the most important issues. “Our hope today is to move the conversation forward in a meaningful way,” Treanor said.

A webcast is available here.

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