As Franklin warned, those who sacrifice liberty (or, he might have added, common decency) for safety not only deserve neither, they mostly wind up having neither. Fear is a bad counsellor, and gives lousy advice.
Jack Needleman of the UCLA School of Public Health reminds me of a well-known example. In what many reactionaries regard as the good old days, police had, in practice, the option of beating confessions out of suspects, and then lying about it. That bred lazy and dishonest cops and departments, which tended to be do a mediocre job of enforcing the law and controlling crime.
Then that horrible activist Warren Court came along with Miranda and the exclusionary rule, which had the intent and effect of reducing coerced confessions. Some guilty people went free as a result. and the professional and amateur fearmongers made an awful fuss, claiming (and convincing most of the voters) that obeying the Constitution would have costs in the form of increased crime and was therefore A Bad Thing. But those stubborn, elitist, unelected judges just kept on keeping on, insisting that the privilege against self-incrimination meant that a defendant couldn’t be beaten with rubber hoses until he confessed.
And guess what? The cops complained, but they also adapted. Getting convictions without coerced confessions required them to get smarter, and so they did. They also got more honest — not perfectly honest, since “testilying” still goes on and still gets covered up, but substantially more honest. And honesty about the interrogation process spilled over to intolerance of financial corruption.
The result, over time, was the burst of organizational reform and innovation that has made policing one of the best-managed public services in most cities, and contributed substantially to the crime decline of the past ten years.
So it turned out that there wasn’t actually a tradeoff between honoring the Constitution and controlling crime. I’d be willing to be heavily that the same is true of terrorism: that torture at Abu Ghraib, at Guantanamo, and in the network of secret prisons has, on balance, made the country less safe rather than more safe, both by increasing the number of people who hate the United States enough to do something about it and by morally degrading the people and organizations we rely on for our defense.
That’s not the only reason to be against torture; it would be wrong even if it worked. But it’s a good reason, all the same. As Jack remarks, “Fear makes smart people stupid and not-so-smart people even stupider.
Courage is a necessary civic virtue.”
A different reason is that being a torturer, or hiring torturers, or voting for torturers, is unworthy of the citizen of a free country. Doing so out of cruelty is disgusting. Doing so out of cowardice is contemptible. To live in fear is to live badly.
Cowards die a thousand times before their death.
The valiant never taste of death but once.