Bin Laden isn’t Hitler

Lord Hoffmann, in upholding the habeas corpus protection against arbitrary detention on the mere say-so of the Executive, made what seems to me an essential and neglected point: the West does not now face the sort of ultimate threat we faced in the Cold War and in World War II, and extreme measures that might be justified in truly extreme circumstances are not justified by the current circumstance.

This is a nation which has been tested in adversity, which has survived physical destruction and catastrophic loss of life. I do not underestimate the ability of fanatical groups to kill or destroy, but they do not threaten the life of the nation.

Whether we should survive Hitler hung in the balance, but there is no doubt we shall survive al-Qaida. The Spanish people have not said that what happened in Madrid, hideous crime as it was, threatened the life of the nation. Their legendary pride would not allow it.

Terrorist crime, serious as it is, does not threaten our institutions of government or our existence as a civil community.

Hat tip: William Gibson.

[Note: This simple truth is one that Democratic politicians are more likely to grasp than their Republican opponents. To the voters, that looks like being soft on terrorism. That’s a cost the Democrats will have to bear. They can somewhat, but not completely, reduce that cost by being strongly in favor of the effective anti-terrorist measures the current Administration can’t be bothered with. Finding candidates too dumb to see the truth or too chicken to tell the truth strike me as undesirable alternatives.]

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: