Sunday, May 30, 2010

Necessary Secrets

Alan Dershowitz (a law professor) reviews Gabriel Schoenfeld's new book Necessary Secrets: National Security, the Media, and the Rule of Law at the New York Times, which is interesting because Schoenfeld apparently takes some close looks at the NYT in his book. Dershowitz mostly but not completely likes the book. It just came out and I haven't read it yet, but it sure could have informed our recent discussion of the Anat Kamm case, where the assumption was that any limitation of the media's total freedom do whatever they wanted was anti-democratic heresy.

Here's Deshowitz agreeing with Schoenfeld, and also saying what should be obvious, but isn't:

It has become an article of faith among some civil liberty absolutists to deny that there are any costs associated with disclosing secrets like the National Security Agency’s high-tech program. This is part of a more general mantra of denial that covers other contentious issues as well: torture never produces actionable intelligence; capital punishment never deters; censorship never prevents harm; and a national identification system would never stop any terrorist. Each of these claims is highly questionable.

Anyone with an iota of historical knowledge must concede that torture sometimes works, as it did when Nazis tortured members of the French resistance into leading them to the hiding places of family members and friends. Recent studies suggest that capital punishment deters at least some criminals, as evidenced by the apparently higher costs of hiring a hit man in a state that executes than in one that doesn’t. Racist, sexist and homophobic speech can sometimes, as we have seen, incite violence against vulnerable victims. And a national identification system would almost certainly make it more difficult for some foreign terrorists to hide among our citizens. Constitutional rights are not cost-free.

To be sure, the arguments against torture, capital punishment, censorship and a national identification system are powerful. Still, honesty demands that the benefits of absolute adherence to a maximalist view of rights be weighed against their costs. Schoenfeld simply but persuasively demands an honest accounting by those who would make the case for publishing national security secrets in real time.

I have asked Schoenfeld if he'd like to write something about the principles impacted by the Kamm case. He said might, so here's hoping.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

this reminded me of Schoenfeld's old blog at Commentary which was a must-read for me and where he had a lot to say on the subject on and off and lo and behold here he is on Wikileaks

and here's the blog