Watered-Down Liberty

You know, democracy and the rule of law can be mighty inconvenient. If I were the members of the congressional intelligence committees I'd be outraged that the CIA decided I couldn't be trusted with its torture tapes. To say nothing of some judges. "Too much danger of leaks," says the CIA director, explaining that the video clearly showed some of the agency's waterboarders.

We can't have their covers blown. After all, then we would have some idea who should be punished for "just following orders." (By the way, don't you like that term, "waterboarding"? I can't get it out of my head that before the interrogators begin, they holler, "SURF'S UP!!!")

In fairness, we really should consider the argument that those who were on the receiving end of the abuse possessed information vital to the protection of the United States. Still, shouldn't we always remember what it is about the United States that we're protecting?

Isn't this a country whose fundmamental traditions are openness and government accountability ... as opposed to expedience? But here we are, constantly faced with hard choices: Do we choose the Patriot Act and its other intrusions or do we protect time-honored civil liberties? Do we brutalize our prisoners of war to force their cooperation and ignore fundamental international law and decency in the process, or do we try and be the world's beacon that we claim to be?

We're told those are the only alternatives: National security versus national ideals. But may I suggest another approach? How about ingenuity? How about coming up with clever, creative ways to extricate vital secrets from defiant enemies at home and abroad? How about outsmarting them?

Is that naïve? God, I hope not. It might mean that the agents of our government have nothing to hide, and no reason to destroy tapes of their shameful conduct.

As I said, keeping the promises of our country can be a real pain.