The Untamed Prince, Ctd

More

Voc_war_pris_1_pic_abu_ghraib_2

Adam Serwer tries to strike an optimistic note:

While the Obama administration's embrace of the Imperial Presidency in terms of actual policy has been near total, there are important legal technicalities that leave the whole construction vulnerable. Namely, that the Obama administration has said that these powers stem from Congress, they're not inherent to the executive branch. They come from Congress passing legislation like the Authorization to Use Military Force. 

That seems like a pointless distinction at the moment. But I don't think it will be ultimately. Impunity for lawlessness in matters of national security won't end through popular means, because scaring people is easy and policies that project "toughness" against a mysterious and frightening ethnic other are politically effective. But eventually the executive branch will do something to infringe on the priorities or prerogatives of one of the other co-equal branches in a manner that provokes a confrontation.

I think that's fair. Panetta is not Addington. The Straussian worship of the dictator concealed within democracy is not part of Obama's mindset. And there is obviously a pragmatic defense of not launching war crime investigations at a time when the administration is already beset with overwhelming problems at home and abroad. Torture, moreover, is no more.

And yet. Aggressively trying to prevent torture victims from having their day in court merely using unclassified evidence is active complicity in the war crimes of the past. And such complicity is itself a war crime. Either we live under the rule of law and the Geneva Conventions, or we don't. And when Obama says we don't - as he unmistakably is - the precedent he is setting all but ensures that torture will come again, that there will never be consequences for it, and that the national security state can cloak itself in such a way that the citizenry has no way of penetrating its power. Bush and Cheney remain the real culprits here; but watching Obama essentially surrendering to their trap is a betrayal of a core rationale for his candidacy.

The institution of torture as a legitimate government tool was a deeper attack on the America idea than 9/11. The legitimation of it by a successor president compounds this in a way that is now, one fears, irreversible. We have tested the rule of law in this country and it has failed.

With great courage and clarity, the Obamaites could have cut this Gordian knot; instead they tightened it. And torturers across the world - far, far worse than Bush or Cheney - are now smiling. See? They will say. They got America to endorse their methods. They even got Obama's America to protect torturers. And so the light of human freedom that once shone from here across the globe and penetrated even the darkest cell of the worst tyranny has been close to snuffed out. Some dissident somewhere in the world now knows that there is no place on earth where this cannot happen. Some victim now understands that even America can do this and will make sure it gets away with it.

How do you put a pragmatic price on that?

Jump to comments

2006-2011 archives for The Daily Dish, featuring Andrew Sullivan

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

What Is a City?

Cities are like nothing else on Earth.


Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

What Is a City?

Cities are like nothing else on Earth.

Video

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity

Video

Is Technology Making Us Better Storytellers?

The minds behind House of Cards and The Moth weigh in.

Video

A Short Film That Skewers Hollywood

A studio executive concocts an animated blockbuster. Who cares about the story?

Video

In Online Dating, Everyone's a Little Bit Racist

The co-founder of OKCupid shares findings from his analysis of millions of users' data.

Video

What Is a Sandwich?

We're overthinking sandwiches, so you don't have to.

Video

Let's Talk About Not Smoking

Why does smoking maintain its allure? James Hamblin seeks the wisdom of a cool person.

Writers

Up
Down