NYC Synagogue Terror Plot Foiled: By Goodwill?

It may be no coincidence that, just as the former Vice-President makes his case for torture and black-hole-style rendition, we learn that the FBI has busted a seemingly serious homegrown terror cell. It’s quite a contrast, and at the very least, demonstrates that keeping the US safe does not necessarily require us to systematically toss out our laws and values.

But Steve Benen over at Political Animal makes an even more critical connection: the plot was discovered thanks in part to an informant from a local mosque who came forward to tip off investigators about men seeking to buy explosives.

Debates over torture often suffer from a singular focus: does this technique work, or not? But it’s clear that there’s a larger picture. Increased goodwill from Muslims in the US and around the world does have real value: when people trust us and our government’s perceived values and intentions, they are more likely to take the initiative to help us, and less likely to fear for themselves in coming forward to do so.

Interrogation is not the only tool we have to get information, and in some ways, it’s a measure of last resort, only useful once we already have access to a captured conspirator. But allies, informants, and just in general a wider society of people willing to help the US and save lives also matter: and they matter in a much broader way by helping us identify threats early and often. Terrorists need to learn to fear not only our military might, but also the moral condemnation and watchful eyes of the very societies and sub-cultures they think they’re trying to appeal to. It’s one thing for terrorists to have nowhere to hide from our missiles and marines. But that still requires knowing ahead of time who and where they are. Ultimately, what we want and need is for them to also have nowhere to hide and no one to trust… anywhere.

Debate the effectiveness of Orwellian tactics, sure. Just don’t forget that standing for something matters too. And, in the long run, it probably matters more.


~ by Drew on 2009/05/21.

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