As an attorney, I have a vested interest in the rule of law. As a human being, I do too. I believe that citizens are considerably better off if their lives are governed by a set of laws that remain set unless changed in certain, prescribed ways than they are if their lives are governed by the arbitrary edicts of a Great Leader.
Which is why Matt Lowry's take on the torture memos disturbs me. He wants to characterize them as a shining example of a nation ruled by laws taking the time, in the midst of a national security crisis, to debate the legality of its response. The memos may ultimately have been wrong, but the fact that we did not strike without first thinking through the legal issues means we remain a nation that respects the law.
There's a teeny-tiny problem with this argument, namely that the memos were condoning conduct the U.S. had tried and convicted people for after World War II, and the people "debating" the legal issues knew it. They also knew that the laws against "enhanced interrogation techniques" had become more stringent over the intervening decades, not more lax, so the only reason to reverse our previous position was political expediency. Which means those memos weren't part of a debate. They were pre-ordained to justify an already decided upon course of action. They were about as respectful of the rule of law as any of Hitler's or Stalin's show trials.
No, Mr. Lowry, the torture memos are not a shining example of our belief in the rule of law. They are damning evidence of our readiness to abandon it.
Labels: Matt Lowry, rule of law, torture memos