Monday, January 26, 2009

Terror, courage, and justice

President Obama's decision to lead off his term in office by bringing his administration into compliance with the law has led to some hyperventilating from some quite predictable quarters.

I have written elsewhere about my conviction that the use of torture undermines the foundation of Western freedom, limited government under law, in a way that nothing else can. Preserving that freedom takes courage; a people that writes their government a blank cheque in the name of fear will eventually lose their freedoms to a leader who promises security.

But giving up freedom out of fear of a few hundred plotters in al Qeada does not only denote a cowardice that ill becomes the children and grandchildren of men and women who endured the horrors of battle against the Third Reich. It also shows a rather pathetic inability to evaluate risks. Consider this: in the worst years of the crack epidemic, from 1988 to 1992, homicide statistics from the US Department of Justice suggest that conflict over drugs may have led to over 9000 additional homicides. During that period, young drug dealers indulged themselves in expensive cars and lavish pre-paid funerals. Too often, they used the funeral services before they could legally drive the cars. And yet, with all this mayhem, with almost three times the number of deaths caused by al Qeada's attacks on the United States, the American government never considered suspending the rule of law. The perpetrators responsible for drug wars appeared in courtrooms and enjoyed the rights of any criminal defendant. And the rule of law prevailed; even with the terrorist outrages of 9/11, fewer Americans died violently in the year 2001 than in any of the worst years of the crack epidemic.

So people who fret that a civilised nation and justice system cannot handle a few fanatics hiding in attics and scribbling in Internet chat rooms really need to consider their recent history. The justice process has handled serious bloodshed before, and it can do so again.

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