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Civil Liberties vs. Prosecuting Terrorists: Which Do Americans Want More?

A year after the Sept. 11 attacks, American still question which is more important: getting all the bad guys, or preserving civil liberties.

A recent poll by National Public Radio, the Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government revealed that Americans are almost evenly divided over the issue.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
The poll asked whether “it’s more important to ensure people’s constitutional rights, even if it means some suspected terrorists are never found,” or “it’s more important to find every potential terrorist, even if some innocent people are seriously hurt.”
 
Forty-four percent said it was more important to protect an individual’s constitutional rights, while 47 percent said it was more important to track down every potential terrorist. The poll revealed a slight increase in Americans concerned about civil liberties since it asked the same questions in a November 2001 poll.
 
The recent 2002 poll indicated that Americans trust the government less than they did in the aftermath of Sept. 11.
 
The November poll revealed that 64 percent of Americans believed the FBI and police protected the basic rights of those detained due to terrorist connections. According to the latest survey, only 56 percent still believe that to be true.
 
The recent survey also showed that 59 percent of Americans approved of stopping and searching people of Arab or Middle Eastern descent to determine potential connections to terrorist activities. In November, 66 percent of Americans approved of such profiling.
 
“Three out of four people (73 percent) say that an Arab or Muslim who is in the country illegally and is arrested as a suspected terrorist should have fewer rights than an American citizen,” according to the poll.
 
Although few Americans (21 percent) said they had been deprived of their civil liberties, the recent poll showed that 56 percent of Americans believed the “average person [has had] to give up some rights and liberties in order to curb terrorism.”