The Constitution is Not a Suicide Pact

Those words are variously attributed to Abraham Lincoln or Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson. I think this quote is germane in light of yesterday’s White House Conference on countering Jihadist terrorism recruiting propaganda. The problems are clear.

“We’re being outdone both in terms of content, quality and quantity, and in terms of amplification strategies,” said Sasha Havlicek of the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a London-based research organization, in a presentation at the meeting. She used a diagram of a small and large megaphone to illustrate the “monumental gap” between the Islamic State, which uses social media services like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, and other groups and governments, including the Obama administration.

When I was in Paris a month ago, it was clear that the Charlie Hebdo assassins entrance point to the Anwar Al Awlaki network was through his You Tube channel of more than 7000 videos.


If the First Amendment fundamentalists feel we must give ISIS complete access to You Tube and Twitter, then we are living out Lincoln’s prophecy. I find it fairly ironic that Anonymous can easily take down Al Awlaki’s websites, but the U.S. Government wants to bring a knife to a gunfight.


Somehow our counterterrorism folks think the solution to our problems is to put out better anti-ISIS propaganda as if that could ever solve a problem. We have the capabilities to totally disrupt the Jihadist online propaganda infrastructure. We could request Twitter and You Tube to block ISIS propaganda in the same way they block child porn.

What are we waiting for?

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8 Responses to The Constitution is Not a Suicide Pact

  1. len says:

    I was having this exact thought, Jon. You are spot on. It is time to take away their megaphones. Yeah, I know the web routes around damage. That’s ok. Murderers route around road blocks too but a bear in the air can follow them anywhere. Time to build better bears.

  2. Rocco says:

    In September 2012, the Charlie Hebdo newspaper published a series of satirical cartoons of Mohammed, some of which feature nude caricatures of Mohammed.
    The newspaper’s editor defended publication of the cartoons, saying, “We do caricatures of everyone, and above all every week, and when we do it with the Prophet, it’s called provocation.”

    Maurice Sinet (born 31 December 1928), known as Siné, is a French cartoonist.
    His article and cartoons in the magazine Charlie Hebdo relating to Jean Sarkozy’s marriage to Jessica Sebaoun-Darty, the Jewish heiress, touched off a controversy, after journalist Claude Askolovitch described them as anti-Semitic. The magazine’s editor, Phillipe Val, ordered Siné to write a letter of apology or face termination. The cartoonist said he would rather “cut his own balls off”, and was promptly fired.
    Notice they stated, “We do caricatures of everyone, and above all every week”
    Everyone excludes no one.

    Was Charlie justified in firing Maurice Sinet?
    Charlie’s answer must be no, according to his own statement.

    Does Charlie put a restriction on free speech for certain groups?
    According to his own statement, Charlie’s answer must be no, but the firing of Maurice Sinet clearly states yes.
    In this case Charlie is a liar.
    Under the circumstances Maurice Sinet was justified in his actions.

    Maurice Sinet also reported a death threat posted on a site run by the Jewish Defence League. The text said “20 centimeters of stainless steel in the gut, that should teach the bastard to stop and think”

    Maurice Sinet stated:
    I’m not Charlie … I’m Sine. I used to work for Charlie as a cartoonist.In 2009, I created a caricature showing Sarkozy’s son converting to Judaism for financial reasons. Charlie asked me to apologize and I refused.

    What’s your response with respect to freedom of speech?
    Is Charlie playing a game of double jeopardy?

    Maurice Sinet now publishes his own cartoons. I personally find them offense and in bad taste, as in do with Charlie, but you can do a search and check out the cartoons for yourself. 

  3. Fentex says:

    This post is a simple assertion that it’s author does not believe in freedom of speech for people he disagrees with.

    Thus does not believe in freedom of speech.

    Are you prepared to own that Jon? Put it that simply? Will you write “I do not believe in freedom of speech.”?

    Perhaps with an argument that “it is too dangerous”, that it “enables my enemies”?

    Freedom of speech only means something when it protects unpopular speech – you’ve heard this argument before, I suspect in the 1960’s you used it once or twice yourself.

    What do you fear – that these people make a better argument, that young people are too foolish to see it’s errors? Again I am reminded of the 1960s.

    Do you argue media instructs and leads people? Why, then not only should there not be freedom of speech for these people but advertisements for fattening food, sugar, fast cars, bad music, police threatening music should be censored.

    Did you ever write or speak to debates about the publication of Ict-T’s “Cop Killer”? If so, what did you say then? Should you have been silenced if you didn’t agree to suppress it? Are there other songs or speech in the past that serves such an example in your life if not that one?

    In this special case apparent influence in media is to be blamed for evil? So I guess hip hop and rap music, violent video games, evocative TV, movies, books and skimpy clothing in public must be equally able to evoke evil and must equally be censored.

    I’m sure you mean just this point in the sand, just here, no further back, will you draw the line on censorship. Never mind that sand shifts.

    • Jon Taplin says:

      fentex-I find this to be one of the most complicated moral questions of our time. Obviously in an earlier (TV) era of video distribution this would never even be a question. The idea that Al Awalaki could get network TV time to preach American destruction would be laughable. But would call that censorship? I note that You Tube censors child pornography. Do you think that violates the pornographers 1st Amendment rights?

  4. Fentex says:

    The rational for censoring child pornography is that to make it one must offend against children, so it cannot exist without crimes against a person.

    But today, if one accepts that logic, one is faced with trickier issues regarding it – modern artistry allows very realistic depictions of such things without any real persons involvement such that the rational children are offended against is absent.

    So far such creations have been specifically outlawed in several jurisdictions though it remains a debated issue.

    So, does a religious or political ideology that presents an argument that can be made without harm to individuals (even if a probable consequence of accepting the argument is harm) be banned on the same logic? It doesn’t seem to fit the same box.

    The problem is these people are arguing for others to make a distasteful choice, but lots of things are distasteful to all of us and it’s precisely because such disdain if pressed on others has been routinely used to deny personal rights and autonomy that the concepts of freedom to speak – which is freedom of conscience to express oneself – have been codified in law.

    To return to your example – people are allowed to argue issues about paedophiles. Is there not an organization in the U.S called the “Man Boy Love Association” that tries to argue for acceptance of currently outlawed practices?

    Anti-drug war activists argue in favour of currently outlawed practices. If they couldn’t the mindless and destructive War On DRUGS ™ would be eternal.

    If you just stopped resisting and accepted Allah and Mohammed (peace be upon him) as his last true prophet then this wouldn’t be an issue.

    Many people argue actively in the U.S that everyone should just accept Jesus into their hearts and adopt his religion as the governing principles of the U.S.

    Some people hearing and accepting this have carried out terror campaigns against people who do not within the U.S. It was used as justification to enslave, to murder after liberation and recently to kill doctors who disagreed over religious philosophies about pregnancy.

    Do you argue preachers be banned from promulgating their hate within the U.S?

    Suppose you continue to accept that Daesh is a dire exception from civilized norms and like Lincoln suspended Habeas Corpus you accept Freedom Of Speech should be suspended for the duration of the emergency.

    What will you accept when Daesh is defeated but Wahhabist preachers wish to speak?

    When the emergency is used to justify greater suppression but somehow not all (will Israeli lobbyists be allowed to continue arguing against the rights of Palestinians and for allegiance to Israel and provision of arms and logistics to pursue it’s crimes?) how will you speak out against it?

    Can you imagine, and express for us, a process that clearly delineates who’s rights are to be abridged that can be overseen and managed without fear or favour?

  5. Randy Finch says:

    In his latest blogpost, Prof. Taplin expresses his frustration that the U.S. government is not stepping in to block ISIS propaganda on YouTube and Twitter.

    Perhaps the Professor doesn’t know that ISIS videos are already forbidden by YouTube and Twitter’s terms of service, which contain specific rules against content that incites violence, crime or hatred, depicts violence, or that is “intended to shock or disgust.” Both sites have firm policies of deactivating accounts held by representatives of organizations designated terrorist groups by the U.S. State Department or in the furtherance of illegal activities.

    In that same post, Prof. Taplin also floats another idea – writing enthusiastically about a U.S. government led Anonymous-like attack on ISIS. Let’s consider this idea: What would an Anonymous-like denial-of-service attack on ISIS-affiliated social media and web addresses accomplish? At best, temporary results. Big governments and businesses really suffer when their servers crash or are flooded with requests – disrupting normal online activities. But propaganda posted by guerrilla fighters? ISIS members can simply switch to new accounts and websites and be back uploading disgusting content (to sites that are not as discerning as YouTube) right away, without any real setback. And has Prof. Taplin considered that ISIS has sufficient internet savvy (as well as suspected connections to the Syrian Electronic Army – the organization that famously hacked a number of Western targets including The New York Times and Twitter back in 2013) to launch a crippling cyber-counterattack? Right now, ISIS is challenged to hold onto territory on the ground 6,000 miles from the U.S. But if the U.S. cyber-attacked ISIS, wouldn’t it follow that ISIS might retaliate against Western cyber targets? No one knows for sure, but a conspicuous U.S. led cyber-attack on ISIS might have little lasting negative effect on ISIS and it might invite an ISIS cyber-attack that could be deeply disruptive to Western commerce.

    Finally, Prof. Taplin seems to think the U.S. government hasn’t stepped in to cripple ISIS’s connections to the internet because such a move might violate freedom of speech under the U.S. Constitution. Specifically, the Professor writes about the “First Amendment fundamentalists” as if they are also the enemy. That just isn’t the case. There are no protections for alien speakers and audiences speaking outside the U.S. under our Constitution. And the history of the First Amendment contains numerous decisions limiting the full protections afforded even U.S. citizens under the First Amendment once the facts of their case reach the borders of the U.S. For example, in cases like Lamont v. Postmaster General, 381 U.S. 301 (1965) (limiting a citizen’s right to receive foreign propaganda) and Zemel v. Rusk, 381 U.S. 1 (1965) (clarifying that a citizen’s right to speech does not include unrestrained right to travel to gather information) the Supreme Court has routinely treated speech and related activities outside U.S. borders as not deserving of full First Amendment protection.

    OK. One last final gripe with the Professor’s blogpost… In his confusion about whether the U.S. Constitution is shackling our government’s response to ISIS, Prof. Taplin suggests that Abraham Lincoln would have sided with him – suggesting that President Lincoln might have actually said the words “the Constitution is not a suicide pact.” In fact, there is no evidence that Lincoln said that. On October 1st,1863 here is what President Lincoln wrote to one of his Generals who had arrested the editor of a Missouri newspaper: “I regret to learn of the arrest of the Democratic editor… You will only arrest individuals and suppress assemblies or newspapers when they may be working palpable injury to the military in your charge, and in no other case will you interfere with the expression of opinion in any form or allow it to be interfered with violently by others.” In other words, at the height of the Civil War, President Lincoln was OK with arresting those working to harm the military. But the historical evidence shows that Prof. Taplin is just wrong when he claims that President Lincoln prophesied a time when American citizens must give up access to their Constitutionally guaranteed rights concerning freedom of expression.

    I appreciate that the Prof. is frustrated by ISIS, but it’s hard to see how lashing out at the U.S. Constitution or at YouTube and Twitter is going to make things better. And, while bringing down some ISIS websites for a day or two might feel like a victory, I’m not sure that strategically it’s such a wise move…

  6. Fentex says:

    Speaking about laws regarding speech and spreading of information; Edward Snowden has done the world a tremendous service in revealing the extent of the spying undertaken by the U.S and allies, much of it illegal and at odds with fundamental Constitutional principles.

    If taken into U.S custody he will likely never again be a free person for his offences against power.

    General Petraeus on the other hand for personal aggrandisement gave code word protected, classified secrets, to his mistress while actively in command of an army in conflict yet will only receive, it seems, two years probation .

    Do you really want to give authorities who think this is how ‘justice’ is administered authority to censor?

  7. showa50 says:

    Edward Snowden is not a hero. He is a traitor and should be in prison. Countless lives have been put in danger due to him releasing classified material. He signed a non disclosure agreement which he broke. If he felt there USG was breaking the law he should have addressed it in a professional legal way. Not running to two of our rival nations in the world with our top secrets. This glorifying Snowden sickens me, he is a traitor who cares more about himself being infamous then protecting our nation or American lives.

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