IN OTHER WORDS: Terror law

Following recent car-bomb incidents in UK, Germany’s interior minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, has proposed antiterrorist measures that would alter the country’s balance between civil liberties and government police powers. Some of his ideas, like preventive detention and government-ordered assassinations of terrorists, are chilling.

Steps of this magnitude need to be seriously debated, something the US Congress failed to do when the Bush administration sought far-reaching legal changes after the 2001 attacks. One clear lesson of Bush’s abuses is that any surveillance powers granted to the German government must be subject to court oversight and review.

The parents of today’s German politicians grew up in Hitler’s Reich. Some of those politicians, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, themselves grew up in the East German police state. These remembered traumas make today’s Germans unusually sensitive to government incursions on civil liberties. That is no bad thing. America’s legal responses to Sept. 11 would probably have been wiser and done less damage to America’s constitutional system and international reputation if the Bush administration had had to deal with a Congress and a voting public more attentive to the dangers of abusive and unchecked governmental powers.