A recent discussion with Glen over at Nashville Truth has gotten me thinking about the recent debate over America's use of torture and secret kidnappings. One common conservative meme I keep running across is that extreme actions are all justified by the extreme evil of the enemy. Conservatives frequently imagine a good-intentioned young American soldier somewhere dealing with an evil terrorist hell-bent on blowing up the civilized world, and the soldier being constrained by softy liberals who have no stomach for the realities of war.
There are some fundamental problems with this meme. I won't debate that evil people exist, or that war involves some unavoidable degree of moral ambiguity. But the fact remains that democratic civilized societies always strive to maintain a balance between the degree of threat and the willingness to give up freedoms to deal with the threat. Despite all the rhetoric, terrorism is NOT a significant threat to our lives right now. Terrorism is inherently a tactic of the weak. People who control the U.S. government, on the other hand, have real power. I see no reason why someone would want to give these people, or the CIA, a free hand to do as they wish without public oversight. In addition to terrorists, Americans working for the government are always a threat. Why should we always assume that these people can be trusted?
I've mentioned this before, but the Iraqi who is in the famous picture with a hood on and electrodes attached was arrested for being at a political rally and on suspicion that he may have stolen a car. Yet someone somewhere decided to torture this man. (He was even tortured in other ways before the photo was taken.) There's little chance that he was a terrorist but I can almost guarantee that his family is now sympathetic with those who kill U.S. troops. So balance is required. I suggest that we be very careful about handing over the keys to power.