Macho Posturing Does Not Make Us Safer

February 9, 2009

Speaking to Politico last Tuesday, former Vice-President Richard Cheney opined:

“When we get people who are more concerned about reading the rights to an Al Qaeda terrorist than they are with protecting the United States against people who are absolutely committed to do anything they can to kill Americans, then I worry.”

Sadly, this is a sentiment that Amnesty International volunteers hear a lot as they engage in the debate on the abuse of detainees. It is also a line of argument that can be easily rebuffed.

The bottom line is that such macho posturing does the national security of this country no favors.  Due process rights keep us honest but they also make us smarter. They hold law enforcement, military and intelligence officers to a higher standard.  A standard that holds mere assertion, hearsay and innuendo is not sufficient to deprive an individual of his or her liberty; A standard that requires official action to be based on the collection of facts – evidence – that will stand up in court; That ensures skilled interviewing by trained and experienced investigators replaces mindless bullying and produces better intelligence; That guarantees fewer miscarriages of justice.

The former Vice-President is not wrong to highlight the threat from terrorism.  The threat has not gone away and, if anything, the Bush Administration’s policies over the past seven years have ensured that the threat is greater now than it has ever been.  Terrorism is the ultimate human rights abuse and Amnesty International is as steadfast in its condemnation and opposition to such tactics as it is to the use of torture and indefinite detention by government agents.

Macho posturing is no substitute for effective counterterrorism policies.  And passion is no substitute for competence.  Human rights standards keep us smarter and make our counterterrorism efforts more effective.  No democratic state that has betrayed these basic principles has ever successively defeated a terrorist threat.  Bitter experience teaches us that the war on terror can only be fought and won from the moral high ground.