15 January 2011

“Centrism” or the rule of law?

In a Friday 14 January post on Salon’s Friday 14 January edition (accessible here) Glenn Greenwald goes to the heart of the tension between certain self-proclaimed “centrist” views and the rule of law.

In it he castigates Benjamin Wittes of The Brookings Institution, and by implication Brookings itself, for a centrism which:

... is devoid of any coherent worldview and instead has one overarching purpose: to defend Beltway elite prerogatives and specifically the bipartisan orthodoxies of the National Security State.

The particular target of Greenwald’s concern is the defence by this “centrist” of the effective immunity from investigation which the Obama Administration has granted to former Bush Administration officials in relation to murder, torture and other acts of criminality.

Wittes claims that this is in accordance with a two-centuries-old tradition of incoming presidents not prosecuting outgoing ones.  Greenwald cites no less a figure than George Washington to challenge this view:

George Washington vowed, in a December, 1795 letter, that there must never be immunity for wrongdoing by high government officials: "The executive branch of this government never has, nor will suffer, while I preside, any improper conduct of its officers to escape with impunity."

He goes on to examine the consequences of a system in which presidents and there retainers know that they will not be pursued for criminal acts perpetrated in the name of national security.

Greenwald’s concern’s resonate with concerns I expressed in May last year in We need to talk about Kevin, about Kevin Rudd’s lack of interest in finding out who knew what when about AWB’s $300 million of kickbacks to Saddam Hussein in violation of United Sanctions; his lack of interest in holding something like the UK’s Chilcot Inquiry to examine events leading up to Australia’s participation in the invasion of Iraq, and who knew what and when regarding the disgraceful treatment of Dr Mohammed Haneef.

I might have added the shocking case of Mamdouh Habib, arrested in Pakistan, flown to Baghram Air Base in Afghanistan, rendered to Egypt for months of interrogation under torture, and then sent to Guantánamo, allegedly with the involvement of Australian officials, a case well described by Sally Neighbour in The Weekend Australian, 15-16 January 2011 (see here) – a matter in which neither the Rudd nor Gillard Governments has displayed any interests until now. The emergence of new evidence has forced the Gillard Government’s hand and the matter is now to be investigated further.

All officials and military personnel of democratic countries need it to be clearly understood that no person is above the law, ever, and no-one can expected to be shielded from investigation when government changes hands when there are grounds to believe they have, or may have, acted outside the law.

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