S/SW blog philosophy -

I credit favorite writers and public opinion makers.

A lifelong Democrat, my comments on Congress, the judiciary and the presidency are regular features.

My observations and commentary are on people and events in politics that affect the USA or the rest of the world, and stand for the interests of peace, security and justice.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Must we always obey the law?

Leadership looms large
Leaders set the tone for being law abiding. These men, Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln, were men who tried to live within the spirit of the rule of law. But even they sometimes did something that sparked protests. Jefferson did a big land grab, Roosevelt exercised controversial military power and Lincoln suspended the right of Habeus Corpus during the Civil War. If they were not always totally adherent to existing laws, how can people hold today's leaders to strict adherence? Much of the news today focuses on just this issue.
What does my "gut" say in each case? It seems to me that one might go with a "greater good" standard. There are also the ideas of the weight of world opinion and the importance of protections for minority rights. And ignoring the rule of law is often just plain counterproductive, costing more than it benefits.
Who gets to say what the law is? The framers of the constitution built in some structural protections that can give sanction to this precious authority. The executive branch of government cannot decide this alone, nor can either political party. Checks and balances are provided in every case by the judical and legislative branches weighing in on the controversial questions. Kevin Drum picked up this interesting little blurb, filled with irony, about the true meaning of the phrase "the rule of law." The trick is to guess the author of the six-year-old piece cited. You never will figure it out, so "drill down" for the answer.
Most people agree that torture is wrong, and generally counterproductive. It does not produce reliable intelligence information. It makes thousands of radicalized enemies of power-down Muslims. It diminishes our capacity to be moral leaders in the world. And it is just plain wrong. We have just seen new images that make us sick, that are offensive. And it is important to look at them, to visit this news again. Problems in our government remain that need fixing. Reuters reports that the Red Cross feels that the abuses at Abu Ghraib violate international law. Quote,
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on Thursday said the latest images of abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison showed clear violations of international humanitarian law. An Australian television station broadcast on Wednesday what it said were previously unpublished images of abuse of Iraqi prisoners at the jail, fuelling Arab anger against the United States.

Women's rights have standing in much the court of world opinion. And this question is not settled in identical ways for all Muslim women. It varies from country to country and sect to sect. The power of mass media around the globe cannot be underestimated. People come to know what is going on elsewhere and change happens. Here is an example from one of the most conservative Middle Eastern societies, Saudi Arabia. This story reports that Saudi women have been urged by one of their own men to fight for the right to drive . Quoting from Aljazeera 2/11/06,
Saudi Arabia's ban on women driving on the kingdom's roads could be overturned by legal challenges in local courts since there is no federal prohibition, a top Saudi government official has said. Speaking at the opening of the Jedda Economic Forum, Iyad Madani, Saudi minister of culture and information, on Saturday urged would-be Saudi women drivers to try to overturn the ban.
"There is nothing in the written laws of the country that prohibits women from applying for a driver's licence," Madani said, responding to a question . . .

As nations progress they can look to the greater good. And sometimes they evolve. This may be happening in China, but it can take a long time with such ancient civilizations. Internet censorship remains. But pressures from a free economy can encourage more human rights. It seems that a just a few Chinese are willing to fight back against censorship, according to this NYT article. To quote,
A dozen former Communist Party officials and senior scholars, including a onetime secretary to Mao, a party propaganda chief and the retired bosses of some of the country's most powerful newspapers, have denounced the recent closing of a prominent news journal, helping to fuel a growing backlash against censorship.
Yes, we must obey the law. Even if it is very hard. By acting in good faith, in the long run the "greater good" standard works. Over-reaching U.S. Justice Department lawyers get into big trouble every time they act in bad faith. The USA is a member of the family of nations and ignores world opinion at our peril. Other nations have dominant religions that differ from ours. International law matters. If we abuse human rights by torturing those we capture, we pay a big price.
Our influence will be only as strong as our example. American Muslim women serve as great examples of the possibilities of equality for their overseas sisters. Protecting the civil liberties of Americans means acting under the rule of law. We are not there yet. Whatever benefits come to the intelligence community from spying on us are far outweighed by the cost. Our constitutional form of government is supposed to be the model for the world's newest democracies. In this, also, we must act in good faith.
My "creative post" today at Southwest Blogger is about "starshine".

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