Terror in the Balance: Security, Liberty and the Courts
Eric A. Posner and Adrian Vermeule
Oxford University Press
328 pages, $29.95

In the aftermath of 9/11, dozens of books have argued about how to strike "the right balance between security and liberty during emergencies," as Eric Posner and Adrian Vermeule put it. But is this really a time of national emergency for the United States? Some Americans flatly reject the notion that we are at war with radical Islam. They say that the threat posed by Al Qaeda and allied jihadists has been exaggerated; such talk, they claim, provides a pretext for neoconservative hawks to pursue their foreign policy goals.

Many others, however—including, I would guess, large numbers of evangelical Christians—are persuaded that we are caught up in a war of sorts, like it or not. Most of them are willing to grant extraordinary powers to the President (whether a Republican or a Democrat), so long as the security measures in question don't touch them directly. They would recoil from the abuses of Abu Ghraib, but they accept that "coercive interrogation" must sometimes be employed, without wanting to spell out exactly where legitimate interrogation ends and torture begins.

Finally, some share a strong sense of the threat from radical Islam for the foreseeable future, but dissent from many policies underwritten by the "war on terror": extraordinary renditions, indefinite detention of enemy combatants, electronic eavesdropping without judicial oversight, and so on. They argue that such measures fundamentally undermine America's commitment to civil liberties and invest too much power in the executive branch. In some cases, they ground these objections not only in constitutional terms but also ...

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