Friday, August 08, 2008

Baleful quote of the day

"It is imposisble for us to reach these people, but we can rest completely assured that we must stop them from gaining power - the plans they have, the lunatic assumptions they hold, are the stuff with which civil wars are made. Essentially, the left wishes to criminalise non-leftist actions and ideas, and as we on the right won’t ever agree to that, push may very well come to shove if the left gains power and seeks to prosecute us for what they consider to be crimes. I wish never to see anyone who is a fellow citizen of the United States as an enemy - but anyone who thinks putting President Bush et al up on war crimes charges - or even attempting to set up a truth commission - is someone who has definitively set themselves up as my enemy. Not a fellow citizen with ideas I think wrong, but an enemy I’ll fight." - Mark Noonan

Ok, let me get this straight. If "the left" - which now includes arch-communists like Bob Barr and Bruce Fein - sets up a commission to investigate the Bush administration for violations of American law Mark Noonan will be prepared to wage war - indeed Civil War II - against "the left."

Of course, Dahlia Lithwick is not suggesting that the Bush administration be investigated for holding "non-leftist ideas" or committing "non-leftist actions," nor is she suggesting the Bush regime has committed crimes equivalent to that of the Nazis. She is suggesting that if American laws have been broken - and in at least the instance of domestic surveillance they have been by admission of the Bush administration - we should find out about it and then hold the law-breakers accountable. What Lithwick (and I for that matter) "consider to be crimes" are, um, crimes.


There's not much dispute that domestic and international laws were broken in pursuit of the war on terror (see our monster Venn diagram). A federal judge recently ruled that President Bush violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in ordering the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans without warrants. Jane Mayer reports in her superb new book, The Dark Side, on a classified report from the International Red Cross finding that Bush administration officials authorized interrogation tactics that were "categorically" torture. And today we learn, from government memos released by the ACLU, that the Department of Justice authorized the use of "enhanced" interrogation techniques, including "the waterboard," on specific detainees. A handful of Bush administration officials continue to insist that water-boarding and eavesdropping are legal. Of course, they tend to be the same people who refuse to say that being buried alive or boiled in hot oil is illegal, so long as the president orders it.

Such contortionism aside, the question for most of us now is not whether laws were broken, but what to do about it. The War Crimes Act of 1996 makes it a federal crime for any American—military or civilian—to cause a "grave breach" of the Geneva Conventions' ban on inhumane treatment for prisoners. U.S. interrogators have been inhumane. Some of them have not only tortured but, in at least 100 cases, killed prisoners. A smattering of relatively low-ranking soldiers have been prosecuted, but in most instances there has been little or no accountability and none whatsoever at the top.
What this means is that Noonan believes that any attempt to hold "conservatives" accountable to the rule of law is grounds for civil war. Or to put it another way: not allowing Bush administration officials to break American laws with impunity amounts in Noonan's mind to ideological persecution!* This seems to be a psychological phenomena related to the way that movement conservatives consider any news that reflects poorly on a Republican to be evidence of liberal bias: not only is reality liberally biased, but so are our laws, it would seem.

Noonan considers this to be "the stuff with which civil wars are made." But what this "stuff" is is they way that our system of government is supposed to function. We are a country of laws, not of men. Our public servants are expected to serve the law, not vice versa. It is the rule of law which is the backbone of our civic body. It is the glue that holds our society together, and contrary to what Noonan believes, it is in reality the abandonment and atrophy of the rule of law which threatens to unravel the fabric of our system of government.

As it so happens, I started drafting a post the other day which argues the need for another entity like the Church commission to investigate the damage to democracy that has been done over the course of the Bush administration. Apparently, I should be worried that Noonan sees me as an enemy that he needs to fight a civil war against.

Do you think Jim Adkisson considered he was striking the first blow of Civil War II?

*Yet expelling a Democrat from the Senate for proposing the President be censured for admitted law breaking is fine by Noonan.

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