Ironies in American justice and political cheerleading
By Glenn Greenwald, Salon
Tuesday, Mar 20, 2012 6:18 AM Eastern Daylight Time
A reader reminded me of this yesterday and it’s really quite something: in July, 2009, NBC’s Chuck Todd went on Morning Joe to defend President Obama’s decision to shield all Bush officials from prosecution for torture, arguing that because Bush got his lawyers to say he could torture, it was legal. I interviewed/debated Todd a couple of days later about those views, but before I did, I wrote a reply to the argument he made on television. When doing so, I tried to think of the most extreme tyrannical and lawless power possible which a President could hypothetically assert, in order to reveal the invalidity of Todd’s reasoning, and this is what I wrote:
I’d like to ask Chuck Todd: if Bush had John Yoo write a memo opining that it was perfectly legal for Bush to deploy hit squads within the U.S. to assassinate American citizens without any due process, would it be wrong to investigate and prosecute that, too, on the ground that everyone had permission slips from a DOJ lawyer and that’s just what lawyers do?
The current President has, of course, obtained his own DOJ permission slip to assassinate American citizens without due process. Since that permission slip is too secret for us to see, we do not know whether the authorized assassination power is confined to foreign soil or extends to the U.S., although once one embraces the Bush-Cheney-Yoo theory that the entire world is a “battlefield,” there is no coherent way to limit those asserted powers to foreign soil. In any event, the real point here is that our government has become so radical and warped that it outstrips one’s ability to create absurd hypothetical powers to test the validity of a principle: before you blink your eyes, you find that your hypothetical has become reality.
There are a couple of articles that have appeared in the last week or so about the willingness of many Democrats to passively accept or even actively cheer for policies under President Obama that they vehemently condemned (or would have condemned) under President Bush: this from Politico, and this from Tim Carney at The Washington Examiner. Back in June, 2009, New York Times columnist Bob Herbert – once an ardent admirer of President Obama – wrote a column lambasting his civil liberties record, and this was the first sentence in Herbert’s column: “Policies that were wrong under George W. Bush are no less wrong because Barack Obama is in the White House.” At the time, I truly did not fathom how that principle – which really should just be an unstated axiom – would not only come to be so controversial but routinely violated and ignored.