Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Terror suspects

Here's a passage from the most recent Newsweek that deserves comment:

[Al-Marri's] case has become a cause celebre among civil libertarians, who argue that the government can't just lock you up indefinitely on suspicion of terrorism. Now Obama must decide: Will he enrage many of his supporters by adopting Bush's claim of sweeping power to grab legal residents -- and perhaps even citizens -- and jail them forever? Or will he let a possibly very dangerous man go, and thereby concede that any Qaeda terrorist who can get into the United States legally is free to roam the country unless (and until) he commits a crime or maybe an immigration violation?

This passage sets up a false choice that ignores the middle ground where the vast majority of us reside. No, I don't think that the government should be able to just lock people up, and neither does the Constitution -- it has all these crazy passages about "trials" and "due process" and "habeus corpus" in there. And this is one of the (many) failings of the Bush presidency. But to suggest that Obama has to either do what Bush did or allow preventable suicide bombings is foolish. If you have evidence that someone is planning to commit a crime, then arrest the person, present the evidence, and convict him. This idea that we are powerless to do anything until after the fact is bogus.

What enrages so many people about Bush is not only what he has done regarding terror suspects -- the torture and such -- but also the way he went about doing it, namely, in secret. Remember, sunlight is the best disinfectant.

A bit further on in the article, Evan Thomas & Stuart Taylor tell us that:

It is a liberal shibboleth that torture doesn't work - that suspects will say anything, including lies, to stop the pain. But the reality is perhaps less clear.

Yes, I have no idea where liberals got the idea that torture doesn't work. Maybe it was from that bleeding-heart tree-hugger John McCain, who, in a debate during Repulican Primary season came out clearly and forcefully against torture, noting that it didn't work because people will, in fact, say anything.