With apologies to Bill Egnor, I think it’s worth considering where the "logic" of Republican sloganeering about terrorism leads. The right wing media noise machine has succeeded in spreading this empty slogan far and wide: our tax dollars should go to weapons to defeat terrorists, not lawyers to defend them.
It’s a mindless statement worthy of inclusion in an updated version of Orwell’s 1984. No one’s presenting an either-or choice between preventing terrorist attacks and putting terrorists in prison. Moreover, it’s not clear what "weapons" would have stopped the 9/11 attacks. Intelligence is the tool for preventing terrorism and smart policy is the tool for depriving terrorists of new recruits. Finally, it’s odd that right wingers said nothing when billions of tax dollars were poured into a diversionary war in Iraq that actually did redirect resources that could have been used to stamp out Al Qaeda.
But let’s leave aside niceties like reason and thought.
Consider where the (il)logic of the catchy right wing meme leads. If we’d rather spend tax dollars on weapons than on coddling terrorists, why not make things as cost effective as possible. Once we’re done torturing and indefinitely detaining terrorists and suspected terrorists alike, why not simply execute them? Wouldn’t that be cheaper than either continuing to detain them without trial or, horrors of horrors, putting them on trial?
I imagine that Republicans would respond that, as Americans, we simply don’t do such things. That’s my point. As Americans, we don’t summarily execute people, we don’t torture, we don’t hold people indefinitely, for years and years, without a hearing of any kind. Except, tragically, that we do engage in the latter two activities.
That’s the thing about the rule of law: either it applies, or it doesn’t. Once we start making exceptions, as the Bush administration did when it justified waterboarding, walling and confinement in coffin-like spaces, claiming none of these barbaric methods are torture–and, even fi they are, the President may still order interrogators to torture in violation of law, it’s not clear where the line is. If we can torture to (allegedly) save lives, why can’t we kill?
Republicans are busy proving that terrorism is just another political issue, something else to exploit and lie about. Ten years ago, it would have been ludicrous for any one to suggest that torture could be justified, under any circumstances. It would have been preposterous to suggest that the U.S. government could detain people for a decade without charges or a hearing. We’ve jumped both of those fences. I’d like the Republicans who chant tough-sounding slogans to present a principled explanation as to why, exactly, it would be wrong to summarily execute suspected terrorists. Think of the money we’d save for use on weapons to stop terrorism.