Friday, December 30, 2005

Moral Man and Immoral Society

This is why John Yoo's theory of legal interpretation isn't interpretation at all. It is, instead: what does the client want the law to be?

Refining what constitutes an assassination was just one of many legal interpretations made by Bush administration lawyers. Time and again, the administration asked government lawyers to draw up new rules and reinterpret old ones to approve activities once banned or discouraged under the congressional reforms beginning in the 1970s, according to these officials and seven lawyers who once worked on these matters.
And why is this happening? The "official story" (still being trumpted by WaPo here) is that the nation must be protected from "another attack." As General Mihael Hayden, deputy director national intelligence, says:

Not stopping another attack not only will be a professional failure, he argued, but also "will move the line" again on acceptable legal limits to counterterrorism.
But the real reason? The same reason Dick Cheney's official residence is obscured on Google Earth: knowledge is power. Control the knowledge, you control the power:

"The Bush administration did not seek a broad debate on whether commander-in-chief powers can trump international conventions and domestic statutes in our struggle against terrorism," said Radsan, the former CIA lawyer, who is a professor at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minn. "They could have separated the big question from classified details to operations and had an open debate. Instead, an inner circle of lawyers and advisers worked around the dissenters in the administration and one-upped each other with extreme arguments."
Close off who has access to the discussion, you control the direction of the discussion.

Choke off dissent, you control the debate. "Free speech zones" exist only outside the White House; well outside the White House.

Reinhold Niebuhr argued that nations must act in their survival interests. Individuals may act unselfishly against their own interests for a higher purpose, but organizations must act selfishly, as their first duty is to preserve the organization. But he did not contend that a nation must act against its own principles. His was not a Machiavellian argument, but an argument against expecting a nation to "do the right thing" according to any given set of moral principles. Nations must act to protect themselves from threat. But the citizens do not have to accept those conditions as the absolute terms of citizenship.

But there are checks on any set of actions, and no nation is given carte blanche to abandon its principles and seek survival through any available means. For one thing, such a nation quickly devolves into a dictatorship, as the legitimate rights and concerns of the governed are subordinated to the "national security interest." The problem with using that standard is that "national security" always serves the interests of those with the power to decide what it is, and how it should be protected.

Which should be kept in mind: this Administration is not interested in security, or even how it would justify itself should another terrorist threat occur. It is only interested in power, and wielding power for its own sake.

Even the ancient Greeks, with almost no concept of "civil disobedience," understood that Creon's power to ban the burial of the traitor Polynices was not a law the king could make. Even they understood that there are moral limits on the reach of governmental power, especially in the hands of one person.

To allow these actions to be implemented in our government does far more harm than any number of terrorist attacks could do. Terrorists can only destroy our buildings and kill people in our country, or abroad.

By the actions of our government, we are undoing the very concept of self-governance.

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