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People Without Laws

The following comes from an active-duty officer in the U.S. military:

One of the conceits of the corrupt is that they’ll be able to manage the day of their own reckoning. Lies can be covered with more lies. Blame can be shifted to others. The public will forgive them for their good intentions.

This week, after more revelations about the mistreatment of detainees in U.S. custody, the Justice Department widened its probe into C.I.A. interrogations. These developments were especially painful for those of us committed to this current war, where friends are hard to find and mistakes make enemies faster than our successes defeat them.

A quick history of the scandal: in the early days of the War on Terrorism, the Bush Administration secretly authorized harsh interrogations for suspected terrorists that went far beyond the standard procedures. In 2004, pictures of American guards abusing Iraqi detainees appeared on Al Jazeera. While the broader Middle East burned with anger, the Bush Administration quickly crushed the ‘few bad apples’ (Paul Wolfowitz’s words) that were responsible. Many careers were ended. Several soldiers went to prison.

The ranking American officer at Abu Ghraib claimed in mitigation that some of the abuses for which she and others were punished were permissible under official policy. Nobody listened. But soon after, the revelations began flowing — John Yoo’s torture memos, secret ‘black sites’, Vice President Cheney’s personal involvement in the selection of interrogation techniques. This, as they say, went straight to the top.

The elements of the story — secret operatives in overseas bases, cabinet officials whose silent nods maintain their plausible deniability, a nation nervous about the next terrorist attack — are the makings of a great espionage thriller. When the scenario is real, though, and the corruption is at home, its unfolding is painful to watch. It’s tempting, and easier, to look away.

But America has no use for fair-weather citizenship — not now and not ever. By secretly pursuing detainee exploitation policies at odds with our deeply-held moral convictions and then turning on the defenders who carried them out, our government has created a crisis of confidence that will not end soon. As readers of the FCPA Blog know, it is always unwise for governments to trample the rule of law. Because, as veterans of our recent overseas campaigns know, people without laws cannot be governed at all.

* * *
Goodbye, Senator. From Time’s Richard Lacayo: “Ted Kennedy would never reach the White House. His weaknesses — and the long shadow of Chappaquiddick — were an obstacle that even his strengths couldn’t overcome. But his failure to get to the presidency opened the way to the true fulfillment of his gifts, which was to become one of the greatest legislators in American history.”

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1 Comment

  1. The Australian Wheat Board paid Saddam's officials nearly $300 million in bribes to secure grain contracts. Now they have managed to dodge prosecution for foreign bribery because the Australian Federal Police have decided it's too difficult and not in the national interest. Someone needs to help the Australians with their FCPA or equivalent, and ensure they enforce it. Australia, for some reason they are yet to explain, still does not take foreign bribery seriously as indicated in recent OECD reports. Perhaps President Obama could send some DOJ investigators to them on loan?

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