“The reason we love this country is because it has been the freest nation in the world,” said former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno at the Salomon Center during a March 17 Meiklejohn lecture entitled “Freedom and Terrorism.”
Dressed in black and wearing her trademark straight skirt, Reno gripped the lectern and warned in a slow, measured cadence that the United States faces a serious challenge to that freedom as it tries to balance liberty and security after September 11. She expressed concern about the detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, without formal charges or access to legal counsel, and she reminded her audience that some of those detainees are American citizens.
“The Constitution covers all classes of people at all times and under all circumstances,” Reno said. If the United States holds detainees without pressing charges and without due process, she warned, the country is putting its troops in danger of similar treatment later.
Thirty minutes into her remarks, Reno stopped to take a seat in the front row of the auditorium so everyone could watch President Bush on television delivering his ultimatum to Saddam Hussein and his sons to leave Iraq or face military attack within forty-eight hours. Some in the capacity crowd laughed out loud at portions of the president’s speech, but Reno sat without expression until Bush finished and she could return to the stage, restore decorum, and field questions.
Asked by one student to comment on Bush’s address, she said: “I am concerned about a nation that launches pre-emptive strikes. I think it’s important that we come together and understand that we cannot solve the world’s problems by might, but we must be prepared if it comes to that.”
In response to a question about responding to future terrorist threats, she said that cooperation is desperately needed between health officials and federal, state, and local law enforcement officials so they can act quickly if there is another assault on the United States.