Sept. 11 was terrible. The terrorist attacks of the 1990s, which Cheney grimly ticked off, were terrible. I recently reread Gerhard Weinberg's brilliant history of World War II, "A World At Arms," and in my comfortable chair could only begin to appreciate how terrible the conflict was for tens of millions.
The war against terrorism, like civilian law enforcement, is filled with no-win choices. I was in law school in the 1960s, when the Supreme Court was issuing decisions softening the treatment of criminal suspects. Those decisions were informed by the law review articles of University of Michigan law professor Yale Kamisar, which set forth the grim scenes of police grinding confessions out of (almost always guilty) defendants. From the Gothic compound of Michigan Law School or the quiet of a judge's chambers, those scenes seemed horrifying, something that just couldn't be allowed to happen.
And from leafy Ann Arbor or the serene Supreme Court building, the results of those decisions, and of the softened law enforcement of those years, may not have looked so bad. But I saw those results on the streets of Detroit, and they were ugly. Crime tripled in 10 years. Thousands of people were murdered, beaten, robbed. Inner-city neighborhoods were destroyed. You can go there today and see the burnt-out houses and empty lots and shells of commercial strips in what was once America's fourth largest city and which now has less than half the population it did in the 1950s.
I believe Barack Obama is taking seriously his responsibility to protect the nation. His speech at the Archives had some uplifting rhetoric, but it tottered between denunciations of the Bush administration and attempts to propitiate those in his own party who are angry that he is continuing military commissions and indefinite detention without trial -- and those Democrats who voted last week to prohibit any Guantanamo detainees from being sent to the United States.
I hope his continued denunciation of "torture" won't limit our defenders to tea-and-crumpets interrogations. And that he realizes now that we need something like Guantanamo.