John McCain

Civil Liberties Check-Up

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The Economist is kicking off a multi-week study of civil liberties since 9/11; part one is about justifications for torture. So far it's nothing you haven't read in reason or at Antiwar.com or on libertarian blogs, but it's well expressed:

If the war against terrorism is a war at all, it is like the cold war—one that will last for decades. Although a real threat exists, to let security trump liberty in every case would corrode the civilised world's sense of what it is and wants to be.

When liberals put the case for civil liberties, they sometimes claim that obnoxious measures do not help the fight against terrorism anyway. The Economist is liberal but disagrees. We accept that letting secret policemen spy on citizens, detain them without trial and use torture to extract information makes it easier to foil terrorist plots. To eschew such tools is to fight terrorism with one hand tied behind your back. But that—with one hand tied behind their back—is precisely how democracies ought to fight terrorism.

Being a snooty magazine with a blissful detachment from U.S. politics (I remember cover stories on how Bill Clinton had to resign, on how John McCain would be your 2000 GOP nominee) the Economist has actually been torture-skeptical for a while now.

I assess whether the last six years have proven the Chicken Littles right here.