Enforce The Laws, Mr. President

(9 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

One of the president’s most basic duties is to uphold the laws of the land, laws that include those codified in international treaties to which the United States is signatory. Upholding and enforcing the laws requires investigating those suspected of crimes, indicting them if evidence warrants, and punishing them if found guilty in a fair courtroom.

Those who tortured – from the planning to the approval to the implementation – violated the law. Laws, and by extension the rights our laws both represent and protect, are only as good as their enforcement.

While the President has thus far done much to reverse the policies and precedents of his predecessor, and while in his speech today he perhaps for the first time gave some encouraging signs, he has not thus far made enforcing the law a priority in the case of torture, which is a war crime. Any failure to prosecute war criminals undermines the rights we all enjoy.

The Constitution doesn’t guarantee health care, or public transportation, or college scholarships, except to the extent that it exists to “promote the general welfare”. It does, however, guarantee protection from unlawful search and seizure, and the right of habeas corpus, but these guarantees are dependent upon their active enforcement.

Refusing to investigate serious human rights abuses has the effect of condoning them, regardless how unequivocal the current president’s rhetoric in condemning them. Imagine if President Truman had issued “stern criticisms” of Japanese and German atrocities during WWII, but then declared that retribution was backward looking, and that the world needed to move on.

Certainly, the scale of Japanese and German human rights abuses were far in excess than those committed under the protective umbrella of the Bush-Cheney White House.

However, the United States claims to be a nation of laws, a beacon of democracy, an upholder of human rights. Refusing to prosecute human rights abuses committed by Americans sends the unambiguous message that the U.S. government is not serious about human rights. Any subsequent criticism by our nation of another nation’s supposed human rights abuses will have no credibility, and will be widely and correctly regarded as utter hypocrisy.

Refusing to investigate human rights abuses authorized by a prior presidential administration also sends the message to future administrations that they can do what they want, free from fear of consequences. Given, upon taking the oath of office, such an automatic get out of jail card, how can the public fully trust that the executive branch will act properly and constitutionally?

I fear for our national security not from without. America is too strong for a few religiously crazed terrorists. I fear more what could happen from within. President Obama has said no future president would ever make the same mistake on torture. I am not reassured. There were laws, clear and constitutional, on the books when Bush pushed through his torture program. The only way to prevent future use of torture is to prosecute past use. Nothing short of prosecuting everyone who engaged in, ordered, or facilitated torture will be sufficient to eliminate this evil from our nation’s future.

Investigating human rights abuses committed under the permissive watch of the Bush-Cheney White House may upset the rather small minority of Americans who, in the end, still supported the administration, but it will bring our country another step closer to justice for all. Unfortunately, there is never a “good time” to investigate abuses committed by officials of a prior administration. Human nature holds that the more time is allowed to pass without taking action, the less action is likely to be taken.

We must now investigate, follow the evidence where it leads, and prosecute where appropriate. Otherwise we are not who we say or think we are as a people and a nation. Otherwise the phrase most associated with the United States will not be “liberty and justice for all”, but rather “do as I say, not as I do.”  

“To preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.” The Presidency’s first duty. Allowing war criminals to escape justice for their crimes is an abrogation of that duty.


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  1. Thanks for reading. This is an OpEd written for, and to be published in the coming days by, my local paper. It aims solely to sway public opinion in my little corner of the world.

    • Pluto on May 22, 2009 at 00:14

    And I’m sure we’re not standing alone around here. Nice Essay.

  2. just watching Chris Matthews, with guest David Axelrod. Chris going over clips of Cheney this morning and asking Q’s of the Axe… interesting moment. Chris showed clip of Cheney saying… “Its been somewhat overlooked, but BHO continues to reserve for himself the power to re-activate these EIT’s anytime he wants…” (paraphrased). Axe stuttered a bit, havent seen him quite so speechless in a long time…. “move forward”.

    Good point, Dick. (Why is he pushing this so hard?)

  3. that it is not actually the presidents job to enforce the law. He takes an oath to defend and protect the Constitution, and since DOJ is in the Executive branch there is some responsibility, but primary responsibility for enforcement of law is DOJ and the Judiciary.

    We have gotten used to a President who interferes with the DOJ but that is not really how it is supposed to work. So, while we should keep pressure on the President, the most effective targets are the public and the AG.  

    • Viet71 on May 22, 2009 at 15:13

    to the heart of whether ours is a nation of laws.

    I can point to all kinds of laws.

    But it’s abundantly clear that the power elite are above the law.  Nothing new there — except that if that idea ever really sinks in with the population, there’s going to be some fun…heads on pikes, that sort of thing.

    • sharon on May 23, 2009 at 01:22

    thanks for stating things so clearly.  great to know that it will be published in the msm.

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