Email of the Day

A reader writes:

Where is the line between passion and sanctimony? Your stance of moral superiority over those who, believing ourselves to be faced with an unprecedented threat reluctantly endorse what in normal times we would abjure, is too easy. I do not fit into your categories of either 'Christianist' or principle-less conservative. Rather, I am someone who worries if the liberal societies I treasure can remain liberal in the face of this particular enemy. I don't believe the enemy can 'win' but I do think they can have more devastating successes and that the reaction to them will deform our society beyond recognition making what you object to today seem like a civil libertarian's paradise.

And even if they did not, we wonder what point is keeping our souls uncorrupted if we lose our cities? So my point is, while you are preening and damning you need to make more explicit the down side to your lofty position, fairly acknowledge the hard case - not the easy ones - against it and deal forthrightly with that for once. We may be paranoid or proto-fascist or blinded by religious fervor but you may be being naive and self-righteous - excusable in peacetime but unforgivable if even one American dies as a consequence. Time will tell.

A couple of responses. I believe in an aggressive fight against our enemy. I would have sent twice the number of troops to Iraq. I'd add a war-tax to gasoline. I would have expended whatever resources needed to find and kill Osama bin Laden. I'm in favor of an aggressive, dynamic, enterprising war against these barbarians. But I believe that part of that long war is continuing to insist on humane treatment of prisoners of war. And I believe that the laws of warfare need to be written and, if necessary, adjusted, to fight this new war. So I'd be happy to see the 1978 FISA law amended to make it easier to wiretap genuine security threats. I have no problem with the Swift program. I'd be happy to see enemy combatants detained indefinitely as prisoners of war, if so proved under a fair process.

Where I dissent is in the claim to grant the president extra-constitutional monarchical power to make this stuff up as he goes along, and to shred the Anglo-American principles of justice and war-making at the same time. I also believe that the United States must never torture any prisoner of war or enemy combatant, and must always treat them humanely. Real intelligence is gained by steady and long-term infiltration of terror networks, not crude torture of random individuals in dark cells. So let us fight by using our strengths - an executive whose errors are subject to checks from both judiciary and legislature and a free, robust press. That's a democracy's advantage in wartime over dictatorships - an openness to internal criticism and thereby correction. The results of one man deciding everything are already evident in the shambles of the Iraq invasion. We are better than that - and it befuddles me to see how little faith some "conservatives" now have in the procedures of constitutional democracy.