Glenn Greenwald

Photo Credit: Helen Fernandez | Daily Texan Staff

Former Congressman Ron Paul and journalists Radley Balko and Glenn Greenwald argued for the right of Americans to retain their personal liberites in the face of increasing government involvment.  

During the “Stop the Wars on Drugs and Terrorism” conference Saturday at the LBJ School for Public Affairs, the three speakers said American social and political freedom is being stripped away by the current police system and national security.

“You have liberty because you’re an individual, and no questions should be asked,” Paul said. “Everybody should be treated exactly the same. … This [idea] would go a long way if we had that understanding.”

Paul, a former Libertarian and Republican presidential candidate, said he believes 9/11 and the Patriot Act, which aimed to strengthen security in the U.S., contributed to Americans losing their rights and liberties, when the opposite should have been the outcome.  

“Especially when you’re under attack, you don’t want to give up your liberties,” Paul said. “It was said that [al-Qaeda] came here to attack us because we were free and prosperous. Well maybe they’ll lose their incentive because we’re losing our freedom, and we’re losing our prosperity.”

Greenwald, who spoke on national security as a response to the war on terror, said he thinks an honest government is vital to democracy. Greenwald is known for his work with The Guardian and its release of classified National Security Agency documents on American and British surveillance programs, which computer professional Edward Snowden gave to him.

“The reason that people need transparency and limitations and accountability in the exercise of their political power is not because certain human beings are bad,” Greenwald said. “It’s because what it means to be a human being … [inevitably] that power will be fundamentally abused if it is exercised without strengths and limitations and balance.”

Greenwald also cited surveillance issues linked to the war on drugs. In an investigation released earlier this week, USA Today found that the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Justice Department had secretly tracked calls from the U.S. to around 116 countries in relation to drug trafficking.

“You cannot talk about dismantling the abuses of the war on terror without talking about dismantling the war on drugs,” Greenwald said.

Balko, a columnist for the Washington Post, said police have become more militarized, having SWAT team raids into homes for marijuana possession. Balko gave examples of raids that led to the homeowners’ death or imprisonment.

“This use of force and violence that we once reserved for active shooter situations and escaped fugitives and riots is now becoming routine as we come to default use of force as the police need to serve a search warrant,” Balko said.  

Nick Virden, international business senior and president of the Young Americans for Liberty UT chapter, said no one would support the war on drugs if it were personalized for everyone. Almost everybody knows someone who smokes marijuana, he said.  

“It’s stupid to pretend that the war on drugs is a good thing,” Virden said. “Would you like to see your friends go to jail because they smoked a plant?”

Although Paul said he thinks freedoms are increasingly being challenged in the U.S., he said Americans seem to be waking up and supporting the cause.

“I think there is a future for freedom, and I think we are winning the war for liberty,” Paul said.