Justice and the C.I.A.

In the wake of a conversation with a friend, and as I prepare something longer, I wanted to get a poll from readers on the current investigation of actions of the C.I.A. towards prisioners.  Or, more widely, whether or not an investigation should be launched of the members of the Bush administration, and even Bush himself, for war crimes.  The thoughts came in lue of the following memorable quotes from “A Man for All Seasons.” 

Margaret More: Father, that man’s bad.
Sir Thomas More: There’s no law against that.
William Roper: There is: God’s law.
Sir Thomas More: Then God can arrest him.                           William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!
Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
William Roper: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!

Sir Thomas More: You threaten like a dockside bully.
Cromwell: How should I threaten?
Sir Thomas More: Like a minister of state. With justice.
Cromwell: Oh, justice is what you’re threatened with.
Sir Thomas More: Then I am not threatened.

There is a tendency to feel like we should let the President and his cronies off the hook, since “that is in the past.”  It would be the nice thing for Obama to let things go, as if justice is a matter of party politics.  Well, sadly it has become that, but above either party and either president is the law.  The question should be whether or not Bush or the C.I.A feel threatened, not by men, but by the law and its justice.  Sadly, particularly during wartime, it has become possible for the president to do anything, even overstepping the law.  And then, those who come after, out of civility, are supposed to let him get away with it. 

This is not an endorsement of Obama by the way.  He too has kowtowed to warmongering and fear by his albeit somewhat tentative endorsement of the Patriot Act. 

What do you think?

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6 Responses to Justice and the C.I.A.

  1. Paul says:

    Look, I agree with you in the abstract. But I don’t think it works as a matter of policy. Otherwise you get what happened towards the end of the Republic in Rome, where political enemies would wait for officer holders to step down and then pummel them with lawsuits, which lead to those in office doing anything they could to stay in office, which then led to Caesar crossing the Rubicon.

  2. bill bannon says:

    I think we should first investigate Cardinal Law et al from the sex abuse crimes so that the world does not think us insane in not investigating our own transgressions but demanding we investigate those outside. The CIA people who are guilty will demand as punishement an apartment in Rome with several Mexican nuns to do their housework….and a salary of 69K per year (Cardinal salary) with a say in 7 discasteries.
    In short, individual Catholics can proceed against the CIA but it would be better for them not to boast that it is a Catholic tradition to hold all power accountable.

  3. crystal says:

    I think if laws were broken, the people who broke them should have cases made against them. That’s obviously not going to be easy or popular, though.

  4. Tesvich, SJ says:

    It is a bit odd to ask about for investigation since you clearly believe President Bush and members of the CIA are guilty of war crimes. You should be calling for prosecution and trial.

    Obviously, one can’t a priori rule out any possible prosecution of former administrations. But more than civility is at stake when choosing whether to prosecute former officials. The damage done to our system in this particular situation would be severe in two respects.

    First, given that polarized nature of American politics such a prosecution would naturally, and possibly correctly, be received by many as the criminalizing of honest policy differences between the parties. This would lead to a situation in the political system that wouldn’t just be uncivil but seriously destabilizing as many banana republics experience. It is one thing to feel passionately about political issues, another to put political opponents in jail.

    Second, there would be a chilling effect on those entrusted with securing our defense. Most of the actions being investigated had been approved by various administration lawyers at the time. Some of those judgments may need to be attenuated or overturned in the new administration. But if men and women in the military and intelligence community begin to suspect that orders given in one administration will be prosecuted when another party comes to power, our defense capabilities will be seriously compromised.

    Prosecutorial discretion would advise that one would only proceed with this matter if the crimes alleged are greater and more certain than the harm that would likely result from such a prosecution. I suspect that is not the case here. But then again I haven’t read “A Man for All Seasons.”

  5. Francis says:

    In my view the decision-makers who set the course, made the rules, and then ordered that they be implemented should be prosecuted if there exist grounds to believe the law was violated. War is no excuse, especially if as here war is termed as indefinite.

  6. karen davis says:

    If we do not deal with Bush and the former administration ourselves, then the International Criminal Court might start its own action since the ICC treaty states that the court steps in when countries are unwilling or unable to dispense justice for crimes against humanity and war crimes.

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