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The problem with the “Better Safe than Free” slogan is that it has no standard for line-drawing. Should the police be authorized to arrest or search any citizen on a hunch that the target might be a terrorist? Why not intercept every conversation and every e-mail of every American in the United States in the hope that communications will be captured with clues about the next would-be act of terrorism?

Mr. Cheney’s general counterterrorism theory is that if there is even a 1 percent chance of a national security danger, the president must treat the prospect as an absolute certainty and act accordingly. For instance, if there is a 1 percent chance that a citizen or noncitizen is guilty of a war crime, the U.S. government should treat the suspect as categorically guilty. Forget about proof beyond a reasonable doubt or even by a preponderance of the evidence.

Conservative statesman Edmund Burke admonished the British Empire as it soared at the end of the 18th century: “I dread our own power and our own ambition. I dread our being too much dreaded. It is ridiculous to say that we are not men, and that, as men, we shall never wish to aggrandize ourselves.”

The U.S. should heed that admonition in its quest for absolute safety.

• “The Armstrong Williams Show” is broadcast weeknights on XM Satellite’s Power 169 channel from 9 to 10 p.m.