The premise of Clive's argument, in other words, is that it's perfectly legitimate for a president to treat the law as something to be defined away rather than followed. And it shows how successful a bully Dick Cheney is. He has managed - even with a very shrewd journalist like Clive - to shift the terms of the debate from why on earth is any of this happening? to how can we let these people off the hook?
There is and was a legal and constitutional way to tackle the terrible crisis Bush faced after 9/11.
If the president believed that following the law at that point would lead to the imminent deaths of thousands of people, then his constitutional responsibility was either to urge the Congress to repeal the Geneva Conventions and UN Convention, or to break the law because this one moment necessitated it and then present himself for trial. That's the Lincoln model. What Bush did instead was secretly break the law, invoke a constitutional theory that the executive can always break such laws in the furtherance of national security and order his lawyers to provide specious reasons why he had not done so. Then he lied about it repeatedly in public. Then when photographs from Abu Ghraib showed in graphic detail the horrifying reality of much milder techniques than the ones he had explicitly authorized, he blamed low-level soldiers and allowed them to take the fall. Then, over a year after Abu Ghraib and four years after 9/11, he set up an elaborate, ongoing program to torture prisoners, replete with lawyers, doctors, professional torturers, and psychologists. Then, when the International Committee of the Red Cross gave him a report detailing what it described as unequivocal torture, he shelved it, further violating his core responsibility to enforce the law.
This is an ongoing, premeditated conspiracy to systematically break the law and violate treaty obligations.
I guess you could find all sorts of ways to say that this illegal behavior should be ignored because the chief executive has used every sophistry in the book to parse legal statutes against their plain meaning and intent. But why would that be your argument, rather than the simple one that the law be enforced as plainly written, and that a failure to enforce the law when the chief law-breaker is supposed to be the chief law-enforcer is a serious threat to our entire system of government?
I know it's a trauma for a society to have to go through this. I do not relish it. It's already been very very painful. But a society seriously committed to the rule of law will undergo trauma if it has to, especially if it is the only way to get over this. And this is not our collective responsibility. The trauma is entirely the responsibility of those who broke the law, shocked the conscience and tortured defenseless human beings in the name of the American people. They refuse to show remorse, threaten to use their political party to return the torture regime to power when they can, and have threatened to blame any future terror attacks on the return of the US to the rule of law.
This is why Cheney remains a threat to the constitution and the liberties it guarantees.
And that is why he cannot simply be appeased.
(Photo: Saul Loeb/Getty.)