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Another Way of Assessing the Question

Reader comment on item: [The Abu Ali Case and] Balancing Liberties, Security

Submitted by Leonard Deutchman (United States), Mar 1, 2005 at 15:15

While I agree with Dr. Pipes' assertion that which aspect of the Abu Ali matter to which one reacts - the part about Al Qaeda's (now alleged) plot to murder the President, or the part about the (now alleged) torture of Abu Ali is, at least for the professional liberals and conservatives who make public pronouncements about such things, a good indicator of what they care about more, civil rights or civil order. However, I do not agree with his assertion that this case presents the issue of having to assess whether Westerners care more about eradicating terrorism, at the risk of error, or whether they care more about being error-free, at the risk of letting a terrorist act take place.

My disagreement stems from the fact that the allegation upon which the NY Times et al. has seized to criticize the Bush Administration's anti-terrorism efforts is that Abu Ali was tortured by the Saudis while in their custody. Even if this proves true, it is not an "error" in the war on terrorism, because it was not part of the Bush Administration's war plan (unless there's something about this allegation that is not clear to me). The issue of "error," in Dr. Pipes' calculus, would arise in a situation such as when the government receives intelligence information that the person presents a terrorist risk to the United States, but the information cannot be sufficiently corroborated, much less proven beyond a reasonable doubt, and using evidence the government would be willing to reveal in court to support conviction of a crime; in that hypothetical, do we err on the side of detaining that person, thus depriving him of liberty (and falsely so if it turns out that he is not a terrorist), or on the side of honoring his civil liberties, thus increasing the risk of a terrorist attack? In that hypothetical, the error is part of a risk that the government is taking - in the Abu Ali matter, the "error" was putative torture on the part of the Saudis, and not at the direction of or countenanced by the United States.

Having said this, I do agree with Dr. Pipes' overall point that where we are willing to err is the best indicator of what our priorities are, that the liberal establishment does not take the terrorist threat sufficiently serious enough to risk errors against civil liberties, and that that is a problem.
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