The year 2014 has again brought front and center the true horror of terror. We have seen hundreds of school girls in Nigeria kidnapped and still missing. Some forty college students in Mexico were kidnapped and apparently murdered. We have seen the horrors inflicted by ISIS on Muslims, Christians, and the beheading of two Americans and a Brit. We have seen endless bombings and killings of innocent civilians in both Iraq and Afghanistan. And in just the past two days we witnessed the hostage taking and ultimate killing of two hostages in Sydney, Australia and the barbaric murder of some 142 school children in Peshawar, Pakistan. These are not examples of international conflict between nations, but rather of ideologically driven individuals representing either an organization or themselves using the tool of terror to make a statement. There were “the good old days” when we could identify the most critical terrorist threats, but today these threats are more diffuse and complex. We have become increasingly aware that an act of terror can come at anytime in any place. As a nation determined to hold onto our values and our freedoms, the line between reaction and overreaction to this threat is a critical one to navigate.
The national reaction following 9/11 was understandably one of fear and a desire for retribution. For the first time since Pearl Harbor we felt vulnerable and afraid in our own homes. Above all we wanted to once again feel the sense of security that had been abruptly taken from us as the planes crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and that field in Pennsylvania. The question that we were never asked, and in fact was never publicly debated, was what we were willing to give up to regain that sense of security. Above all, we felt a need to trust those we elected to lead us back to the “promised land” that existed just before 9/11. Inherent in that trust was the belief that while doing everything they could to protect us from another attack, they would also protect who we were. They would uphold the values and beliefs that make America special. We trusted that while they would bring those responsible for attacking us to justice, they would do so within the bounds of American values and international law. As we know, it is easy to uphold those values when they are not placed under stress.
It was the severe stress of 9/11 that placed those who we trusted to uphold those values to the test, and they failed. The comprehensive report by the Senate Intelligence Committee released last week illustrates with indisputable fact that our leaders failed us and compromised who we are. Certainly, there are those, loudest among them Dick Cheney, who decry these findings and defend their actions. But every reputable and impartial source finds that the United States government conducted torture on its prisoners. Not only is this behavior morally reprehensible, but in addition it places any American citizen unfortunate enough to become the prisoner of a terror group in mortal danger. Additionally, the fact that it is clear that the torture did not provide any significant actionable information makes it all the more troubling. Again this is disputed by those responsible for the torture, yet the facts simply don’t support their contention.
America has always held itself high as the “beacon of freedom” and the nation that others should try to emulate. We have aggressively attempted to export our form of government around the world. There is no doubt that we enjoy freedoms and liberties that others can only dream of. Yet, while we need to trust our leaders, we must never trust them blindly. There will, no doubt, be challenges in the coming years that will place stress on our system of values. We must make sure that our leaders remain on the right side of that fine line between reaction and overreaction. We cannot allow them to ever again take actions that compromise what America stands for.