I was watching a panel discussion on NPR that involved, among other things, the Supreme Court decision on Hamadan. I’m sorry to say I do not recall who the participants were, but one of them was asked to respond to the idea that the Hamadan decision was actually a positive in terms of our international image. His reply consisted of words to the effect of,
"My knee jerk reaction to questions of national security is to respond that it is of such importance that we should not care about our international image. National security is our first priority…"
He went on to ameliorate his stance somewhat and to acknowledge that poor international image is actually destructive to national security, but his adamant insistence on the priority of security gave me food for thought.
In a story I read not long ago a man was confronted with a scene where three men were beating and raping a young woman. He took it upon himself to intervene in her behalf and was killed for his trouble. He knew that he would most likely be killed, but the moral imperative of attempting to rescue her was bigger than his own need for survival. Wow.
That was fiction, and nations are not persons. But that man saw something bigger than the need for personal safety.
Prior to WW2 when Germany invaded Czechoslovakia, England took a firm stand. “Stop now,” they said, “or we will fight you.” It was not in the interest of their national security to declare war when Germany invaded Poland - England was not directly threatened. There was a need to stop Hitler that transcended the national security issue. There was a moral imperative to do what was right.
Moral imperatives do matter. They matter for individuals, and they matter for nations. Like it or not, we as a nation must walk in the community of nations. We are accountable to that community for our actions. Not only must our acts be moral and justifiable, so also must be our reasons for those acts and the manner in which we perform them.
When we perform immoral acts in the name of national security we lose the mantle of righteousness.
We cannot, for instance, in the eyes of the community of nations, claim torture to be a moral act merely because we do it in the name of national security.
When we invade and destroy another country in the name of national security, and it turns out that the country was not a threat to us (so we shift our reason to "spreading democracy"), we lose our membership in the community of righteous nations. Spreading our form of government at the point of a gun can never successfully be defended as a moral act.
I cannot determine for you what this country's first priority should be, but I know what it should be for me. I do not want my country to be a nation that uses torture. I do not want my country to be a nation that spies on its citizens without warrants, that arrests its citizens without due process, that tries anyone in a kangaroo court, or that imprisons anyone without access to legal counsel.
If turning my country into that kind of nation is the cost of keeping me safe, then let me die.