As most readers will know, it has recently come to the attention of the world that lawyers in the Pentagon’s Office of General Counsel have prepared a memo arguing that torture can be authorized by the President. The argument, as I understand it, is that when the President believes that he is operating in his capacity as Commander in Chief, he has unlimited power, which cannot be constrained by the Legislature. It goes so far as to say that authority to set aside the laws is “inherent in the president.”
On pages 22-23 the Walker Working Group Report sets out a view of an unlimited Presidential power to do anything he wants with “enemy combatants”. The bill of rights is nowhere mentioned. There is no principle suggested which limits this purported authority to non-citizens, or to the battlefield. Under this reasoning, it would be perfectly proper to grab any one of us and torture us if the President determined that the war effort required it. I cannot exaggerate how pernicious this argument is, and how incompatible it is with a free society. The Constitution does not make the President a King. This memo does.
Via TalkLeft, I see that Sen. Dick Durbin has introduced:
an amendment to the Defense Authorization bill to reaffirm US commitment to the Geneva Conventions, the Convention Against Torture, and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, and to affirm unequivocally the prohibition against torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
TalkLeft has a good deal of information about this, including a sample letter of support for this amendment which can be adapted and forwarded to your representatives in Congress. Here’s a good resource for contacting them. Please do this.
One last point, in which I get a little emotional.
I’d like to say “me, too” to Digby. I spend too much of my life following politics, getting angry or amused or frustrated at the news. This is different. This memo was prepared by a group of highly-educated men and women at the top of my government. They are people who doubtlessly consider themselves patriots, probably with good reason. They were willing to sell out the principles of our Constitution, one of the greatest accomplishments of humankind, in order to torture other human beings.
This knowledge has made me want to cry, out of fury and shame. I hope that the people who wrote this, and the people that authorized it, are driven from the government and disbarred. I hope that they live the rest of their lives in shame, hoping that the next person they meet doesn’t remember their names. I hope that God alone shows them the mercy that they are unable to find on Earth.
If America ceases to be a free country, you won’t necessarily notice. It won’t smell different, dark clouds won’t gather on the horizon, the roads will remain open, movies will still play in the theaters, and television will, most assuredly, stay on.
…Contrary to what we think we know in our bones, there aren’t many effective arguments from self-interest in favor of freedom. Being free just isn’t a matter of convenience, and being unfree isn’t necessarily inconvenient. It’s a matter of principle, and of pride. I don’t think many people care about the principle, but, for a couple of hundred years, Americans have been fiercely, even violently, proud of being free. Are they still?