How did America become a nation that disappeared and tortured suspects, spied on its citizens without warrants, and let its president assume unchecked powers in matters of defense? Has justice been the greatest casualty of the war on terror?
After September 11, 2001, the Bush administration swiftly began to rethink its approach to national security. In Justice at War, David Cole takes a critical look at the men whose decisions shaped America’s response to the attacks. Attorney General John Ashcroft aggressively expanded federal law enforcement authority. John Yoo, in the Justice Department’s office of Legal Counsel, drafted secret memos that justified the torture of detainees. Yoo and David Addington, Vice President Dick Cheney’s counsel, insisted that the president’s actions as commander in chief in wartime cannot be constrained. White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales argued that foreign nationals were not protected by international human rights treaties, dismissed the Geneva Conventions as quaint, and seemed willing to defend President Bush’s position on any issue.
Cole explores the mindset and motivations that led America into the “war on terror,” and contends that the administration’s strategy was flawed as a matter of principle and policy. America, he maintains, can prevail against terrorism not by limiting civil rights and dismantling government’s system of checks and balances, but by restoring them. He explains why the Supreme Court rejected Bush’s plans to try enemy combatants in military tribunals under rules that violated the Geneva Conventions. And he considers skeptically the views of both conservative and liberal legal scholars who are willing to abandon fundamental constitutional principles when the nation is under threat.
Above all, Cole argues, we must remember that the Constitution embodies principles that we should not give up in times of fear: “Both the strength and security of the nation in the struggle with terrorists rest on adherence to the rule of law, including international law, because only such adherence provides the legitimacy we need if we are to win back the world’s respect.”
[A] collection of insightful pieces.— The National Interest