Can We Have a Serious Debate About Terrorism Policies?
One of my favorite legal journalists Dahlia Lithwick has a very fairminded review in Slate of Judge Richard Posner’s recent book Not a Suicide Pact: The Constitution in a Time of National Emergency.
According to Lithwick, Posner’s book argues that, “broader government surveillance powers, computerized data-mining, zealous deterrence of media leaks, and even ‘coercive interrogation up to and including torture’ are all constitutionally permissible in dealing with an unprecedented new threat,” Despite these views, Lithwick applauds Posner for taking a hard-headed and realistic look at the costs versus benefits of such policies. She contrasts Posner with the Bush Administration operatives who make “cheap attacks on its critics or grandiose claims of unlimited wartime authority”.
I’m sure Lithwick is right that the Bush administration has made cheap attacks on its critics and made grandiose claims of executive authority. But will she also acknowledge that the critics of the Bush Administration have also made equally cheap attacks on the Administration and made its own grandiose claims about the uncontested supremacy of international law? In other words, will she admit that both sides are engaging in cheap, manipulative attacks for political gain on this issue, just as both sides also adhere to principled sincere opinions about the proper policy in the war on terrorism?
Along with Lithwick, I too hope we can “undertake the sort of measured, careful debate about this possibly never-ending war on terror—a debate that is long overdue.” But I would simply add that a careful debate takes two careful sides, and I’ve seen little evidence that the left is any more careful than the right in raising the seriousness and quality of this particular debate.