Friday, October 06, 2006

More Stupidity from Cato

I read Cato-at-liberty mainly to find good examples of obtuse libertianism. I'm seldom disappointed. Today, for example, I find "The Weakness of Watch-Listing," by Jim Harper. I won't take the time to Fisk the post. I'll just point out two fatal flaws. First, Harper says:

Easy to evade, [watch-listing] provides no protection against people who haven’t yet done anything wrong, who haven’t come to the attention of security officials, or who have adopted an alias.

Harper doesn't know how easy it is to evade a watch list because he doesn't know how much information we have about known or suspected terrorists. Neither do the terrorists. A suspected terrorist needn't have done anything "wrong" to be on a watch list. To evade watch-listing, therefore, terrorists must be extra cautious and forgo some opportunities for terrorism that they would otherwise exploit.

Is watch-listing perfect? Of course not. But it's part of a defense in depth. No part of a defense in depth is perfect, but all parts -- taken together -- can prove quite formidable.

Harper goes on to say:

Watch-listing has a deeper flaw, though. It does not fit with our system of law enforcement.

In the U.S., people who have done something wrong are supposed to be arrested, taken to court and charged, then permitted to contest the accusation. If they are found guilty, they pay money or serve time in jail.

Watch-listing follows no similarly familiar pattern. Law enforcement or national security personnel place a person on a list and then, wherever that list is used, treat the person (and other people with the same name) differently, stopping them, interrogating them, searching them, or whatever the case may be. This unilateral process is alien to our legal system.

Rather than watch-listing, people who are genuinely suspected of being criminals or terrorists should be sought, captured, charged, tried, and, if convicted, sentenced.

It's obvious, again, that the concept of a defense-in-depth eludes Harper, who wants to substitute prosecution for watch-listing, instead of doing both (which involves little or no competition for resources).

The deeper flaw in Harper's argument, however, is to think of terrorism as crime. It is not crime, it is war. The "unilateral process" of watch-listing is part of a war effort. Success in war demands sacrifices on the part of civilians. Being placed erroneously on a watch list is one of those sacrifices. As an inconvenience it barely registers on the scale of inconveniences suffered by Americans during World War II.

Related posts:
Losing Sight of the Objective
A Skewed Perspective on Terrorism
Terrorists' "Rights" and the Military Commissions Act of 2006