Thursday, January 22, 2009

Finally, An End to a Very Dark Story

If he doesn't do much else of note during his presidency, Barack Obama's decision to close the Gestapo camps today should be hailed by everyone but Charles Kratthammer and his like.

If we are going to blast Cuba, North Korea, and Iran for forcing people to live in illiberal regimes that put people in jail for no reason, than those camps and Gitmo HAD TO GO. No one, but the densest right-wing nut could take the U.S. seriously on humans rights while those camps remained open. Those camps violated every principle of freedom and liberty this country is purported to stand for.

But there is one, huge caveat to all of this. Four lousy days before the Canada Geese Freedom Fighters tried to engage in terrorism against U.S. Airways, several news organizations had reported on a two year long streak without any fatalities that U.S. had enjoyed. Anyone who watches basketball has seen announcers "jinx" someone at the free throw line by noting that they've made like 45 in a row.

I hate to break it to everyone, but as a recovering stats enforcer, I can tell you that much as Brent Musburger would like to think he controls the universe, nobody jinxes anybody. Consecutive free throws and crash free days aren't simple random events. They are complicated processes in which people who are more skilled can influence the outcomes based on their abilities. Some god of free throws doesn't flip a coin indicating whether or not Shaq clanks one everytime he toes the free throw strip. Skill plays a role and influences the outcome. So does context. Practices that lower risk, well lower risk and improve outcomes.

Still, when I read stuff like this about the current "streak" the U.S. is enjoying concerning terrorist attacks I cringe - not merely as a statistician and an opponent of secret prisons. Rather I cringe as a fan of freedom.

As I've noted earlier, breaking the law to promote some vague "national interest" is not an uncommon occurrence in U.S. history. Americans can live with a few rights violations to maintain stability. Part of the reason Obama can get away with closing Gitmo is that terrorists have thus far not been able to mount an attack against the U.S.

How much Gitmo played a role in that is open to debate, but if, this suspiciously timed Pentagon report is correct, the probability that an attack could occur by releasing all of these people will probably go up. Obama and the left had better be prepared to live with the consequences of this increased probability of an attack or be really confident that any increase is not significant.

A lot is riding on Obama being able to keep our "streak" alive. We know that he hasn't been jinxed by these recent reports about Gitmo alumns fighting again. But let's all hope that that it turns out free societies don't need illiberal institutions to maintain freedom - or else we are all in trouble.


Friday morning at the top of the NYT web page was this story on a Gitmo alum who is now supposedly the head of some Al Qaeda cell in Yemen. Granted folks in New York have way more reason than most to worry about terrorism, but if Obama's "support" on closing Gitmo is this thin he should be concerned.

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