In a familiar movie scene, the Devil appears before the dying man with a
compelling proposition: "I will save your life,...in exchange for your eternal
soul."Predictably, a weak character will take the deal. And the audience knows
that, even though he has bought some extra time, he is lost forever.The hero,
who loves life just as dearly, feels the temptation, but ultimately says "no,"
knowing that death is preferable to losing one's soul. The audience applauds
this decision, for living--and sometimes dying--with integrity is what defines a
The Bush Administration's pitch is this: "I will do whatever it takes to
save the American people,...even if that involves ignoring the law and torturing
suspected terrorists."This is a powerful pitch, for who does not feel anger at
the idea that the lives of our fellow citizens is being threatened by our
enemies. In exchange for our survival, however, we being asked to sacrifice the
commitment to moral and legal ideals that define America.But there is an
additional twist here.
By many accounts, it is a false dilemma, because we can
save ourselves with methods that are consistent with our moral and legal ideals.
It is like the trickster Devil who, knowing that the person's wounds are not
fatal and that rescue is just around the corner, offers the proposition to a
person who falsely believes that death is imminent. It was never necessary to
make the deal.We know what the hero would do. But that's in the movies. The
choice now facing Congress and the American people is real.