I stirred up a hornet's nest!
A response to some of these very interesting comments will be my Leiter guest blog swansong.
I do not, contrary to some of the comments, either embrace pragmatism as a dogma or (what would be quite inconsistent) consider human life to have absolute value. Remember the old slogan, "Better dead than Red?" If people would prefer to be killed by terrorists than to give up even a tiny smidgeon of their civil liberties (one comment reminds that the grand total of detainees in Lord Hoffman's case was 17 out of an English population of 60 million), I have no argument contra. I just think that almost all Americans would consider that turning back the civil liberties clock to, say, 1960 would be worthwhile if as a result some horrendous terrorist attack was prevented. I am of the same mind. I find it hard to understand the contrary position, but I would not argue against it. I would point out, however, the self-defeating character of civil liberties absolutism. If as a result of such absolutism another major terorrist attacks occurs, civil liberties are pretty sure to go out the window.
I would also argue against those who say that history shows that the threat of terrorism is much less than other threats that we have overcome. That is a misuse of history. History does not contain nuclear bombs the size of oranges, genetically engineered smallpox virus that is vaccine-proof, and an Islamist terrorist (Bin Laden) who visited a cleric in Saudi Arabia to obtain--successfully--the cleric's approval to wage nuclear war against the West.
It is one thing to set civil liberties above life in one's personal utility function; it is another to adopt an ostrich's stance with regard to the present and future threat posed by a technologically sophisticated terrorism.
I was explicit, by the way, in not criticizing the outcome of Lord Hoffman's case. I criticized only his disparagement of the terrorist threat and his astonishing contention that the continued detention of those 17 terrorist suspects has done greater harm to England than the 9/11 attacks did to the United States. He offered this contention as self-evident, citing no evidence that would support it. That kind of dogmatism justifies my speaking of a "religion" of civil liberties.