Last week after the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee released a report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program — more commonly called the “torture report” — former NSA and CIA Director Michael Hayden did the rounds on the cable and network news shows defending himself and others for the parts they played in the program in the years after the 2001 terrorist attacks.
Just last month Hayden was in New Haven, giving the keynote speech at a dinner capping off a day-long conference, sponsored by the William F. Buckley Program at Yale, on the 50th anniversary of the publication of James Burnham’s Suicide of the West.
I was at Hayden’s November speech, and as I read the news about the Senate report this week I thought about his remarks, and the defense he gave of the actions of the NSA and CIA during President George W. Bush’s two terms in office.
Hayden was the NSA director during the years of the “warrantless wiretapping” program, and was CIA director when parts — but not all — of the “enhanced interrogation” program were in place. This week he told ABC News that he personally never green-lighted waterboarding or some of the more controversial interrogation practices during his time at the CIA, and that he “thanks God” that he didn’t have to make the decision about whether to use the controversial tactics.
At the New Haven dinner, Hayden said the debates over the Bush administration’s practices — many of which President Obama has continued — in its fight against global terrorist organizations, isn’t a debate between “the forces of light versus the forces of darkness,” or the “forces of good versus the forces of evil,” but rather “good versus good.”
“We are attempting to balance two things that are virtues — our liberty and our security,” he said.
Security is a virtue, embedded in the Declaration of Independence as the unalienable right to life, Hayden said.
It struck me that Hayden, who served in the military for 40 years before his time with the NSA and CIA, has seen what happens to a nation that has lost the virtue of security. Like we saw in the anarchic years in Iraq after the U.S. invasion, without security there can be no liberty.
But it is a balancing act, because when a nation puts too much power in the hands of those maintaining security, liberty is lost as well.
Hayden’s argument wasn’t that security should always take precedence, but rather that as we have this debate we need to understand that there are two goods at stake.
In the aftermath of recent civilian deaths at the hands of police officers in Ferguson and Staten Island, it seems to me that this is the same debate cities and towns need to have about the role of a police force. When a community is afraid of the officers who are sworn to protect them, when a community no longer feels secure enough to call police when there is trouble, the pendulum has swung too far.
The answer to trouble with both the international and local uses of force is civilian control. Just like the military must answer to elected political leaders, so should police be responsive to local political leaders, who should then be responsive to their constituents.
We’ve seen what happens when the military takes over control of a country — Egypt and Pakistan are two examples of countries where military leaders feel free to take power whenever they think elected politicians are doing things wrong.
In the same way that civilian control over the military is necessary in a democracy, local politicians also need to maintain oversight over police — and police officers must be held accountable when they step over the line of appropriate and necessary force.
I am sympathetic to the people who serve in these roles, whether it be the police, the CIA, or the military. We ask them to do things most of us don’t want to do ourselves.
Most of us can maintain a safe distance from the darker side of life. As a reporter, when I had to cover a sex abuse case, or a murder, or an assault, it affected me, and I was mostly reading reports — reports compiled by police officers who had to talk to victims, or assess a crime scene, or break up a domestic violence situation.
Years of doing that takes a toll — there’s a reason suicide rates are higher for police officers and military personnel than for civilians. Being at the tip of the spear, so to speak, is not an easy place to be.
But that makes it all the more necessary that civilians assert authority over police and military action — it is difficult to maintain the distance necessary to make the kind of big picture policy decisions that need to be made when you’re forced to confront human depravity on a daily basis.
In the weeks and months immediately after 9/11, the nation was still raw, and the debate about how to balance liberty and security was muted by our collective pain and outrage. But now, thankfully, we are having a discussion about how our nation should balance security and liberty. Let’s hope we can keep it civil.
Suzanne Bates is the policy director for the Yankee Institute for Public Policy. She lives in South Windsor with her family. Follow her on Twitter @suzebates.
DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.