Thursday, September 17, 2009

"I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

One of the most difficult reads I've encountered in some time, Andrew Sullivan's open letter to George W. Bush in the October Atlantic is essential reading as far as I am concerned. The passage that really got me was this one,
Torture is the ultimate expression of the absolute power of one individual over another; it destroys the souls of those who torture just as surely as it eviscerates the dignity of those who are its victims. And because torture is so awful, it also often requires a defensive embrace of it, a pride in it, an exaggeration of its successes. And those so-called successes invariably lead to more torture until we end up with the record of wanton and systematic abuse that occurred under your command.
While the meltdown of political discourse in the Republic has occurred over health care, I think that the torture debate -- though there isn't much room for debate -- still needs to happen. Eric Holder has, as Dahlia Lithwick has pointed out at Slate, fallen victim to the mindset that a legal memo means an absolution from culpability. That is not the case. I doubt that Sullivan's piece will have much effect, but it should force people to take a long, hard look at what the United States has done and whether or not it was worth it -- in the long run.

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I was at Vanderbilt when John Yoo taught there. I didn't take a class with him, but he was an excellent teacher who respectfully engaged his students and didn't mind respectful challenge.

He has published several articles defending his memos as thoroughly researched in the case law. As you know, war is what happens when one or two parties scorn law, and fighting a war sometimes causes a party to do things they would not consider during peacetime.

Once upon a time, warriors conducted war, and the lawyers tried to rebuild everything at the end. I have several friends in the JAG Corps (Army and Air Force). The current wars have been supervised by lawyers. As Hugo Black said in In re Yamashita, we should not call the things we do in war and at the end "law." To do so is to undermine law.

I admire your desire to keep the current wars from sucking away any morality we have, but if in the end, John Yoo is prosecuted for advising the POTUS on foreign policy even though he had no executive authority, then we will have done to our profession what was achieved during the French Revolution but largely resisted in Anglo-American law.

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