America And The Rule Of Law

National Journal's national security blog is debating whether we should have a truth commission on torture. Brian Michael Jenkins is against the idea:

A truth commission on torture could be ruinously divisive. It would smack of political vendetta and fuel narrow partisan agendas on both sides. It would lead to spectacle, not edification. It could end up giving rogues the aura of martyrs. Let history be their judge.

To which the only response can be: have we decided as a nation that war crimes should not be prosecuted if they are committed by members of the American government? Are we formally going to withdraw from the Geneva Conventions - or just violate them with impunity while pretending that we take them seriously? Those are the actual questions: not policy matters, but core legal issues that tell you whether a country is governed by the rule of law or not.

Under Bush and Cheney we were not a country under the rule of law. Is that now to be sustained indefinitely? Col. W. Patrick Lang, who favors a commission, makes a good point about the effect of torture on the torturers:

A particularly strong argument against torture is the effect it has on the torturers and abusers. Professional military leaders know that allowing (or commanding) men who have been trained to fight and kill to engage in behavior that breaks down the bonds of discipline and pride in self or unit is a dangerous thing to do. After engaging in such acts, soldiers (or anyone else) lose the capacity to judge right from wrong and degenerate into self-indulgent violence and a brutal nihilism. As this happens they become more and more dangerous to their leaders and unwilling to see their duty in terms larger than themselves. In other words, using soldiers to do such things rots the very fiber of an army and disgraces its members and spirit. Douglas MacArthur (and my father as well) spoke of the “ancient and honorable profession of arms.” That notion is incompatible with soldiers who torture and abuse prisoners or anyone else.