Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Rule of Law

Fred Hiatt on the rule of law:

There is one major area of disagreement between the administration and House Democrats where we think the administration has the better of the argument: the question of whether telecommunications companies that provided information to the government without court orders should be given retroactive immunity from being sued. House Democrats are understandably reluctant to grant that wholesale protection without understanding exactly what conduct they are shielding, and the administration has balked at providing such information. But the telecommunications providers seem to us to have been acting as patriotic corporate citizens in a difficult and uncharted environment.

Glenn Greenwald on Fred Hiatt's contempt for the rule of law:
There is no such thing as a "patriotism exception" to the laws that we pass. It is not a defense to illegal behavior to say that one violated the law for "patriotic" reasons. That was Oliver North's defense to Congress when he proudly admitted breaking multiple federal laws. And it is the same "defense" that people like North have been making to justify Bush's violations of our surveillance laws -- what we call "felonies" -- in spying on Americans without warrants.

By definition, the "rule of law" does not exist if government officials and entities with influential Beltway lobbyists can run around breaking the law whenever they decide that there are good reasons for doing so. The bedrock principle of the "rule of law" is that the law applies equally to everyone, even to those who occupy Important Positions in Fred Hiatt's social, economic and political circles and who therefore act with the most elevated of motives.

In a 1998 essay in Foreign Affairs entitled "The Rule of Law Revival," Thomas Carothers of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace wrote optimistically that the "rule of law" has now become the centerpiece, the prime consensus, for most international relations and has been recognized as the linchpin for third-world countries developing into functioning democracies. Here is how he defined the basic principles of "the rule of law":

THE RULE of law can be defined as a system in which the laws are public knowledge, are clear in meaning, and apply equally to everyone. They enshrine and uphold the political and civil liberties that have gained status as universal human rights over the last half-century. . . . Perhaps most important, the government is embedded in a comprehensive legal framework, its officials accept that the law will be applied to their own conduct, and the government seeks to be law-abiding.

What is happening now in Washington is -- in every respect -- the exact opposite of this. ...

As usual, read the whole piece.

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