"This above all: to thine own self be true..."
Shakespeare, we have a problem.
The problem is that at least two of the West's most fabled democracies, the US and Great Britain, have utterly lost their ability to be true to themselves, about themselves and about the crimes they committed together in recent years.
Let's start with this Associated Press story today:
UK: Releasing Guantanamo documents hurts security
LONDON (AP) — Disclosing confidential U.S. intelligence documents about a former British resident held at Guantanamo Bay would hurt Britain's national security and its relations with allies, Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Thursday....Miliband told lawmakers that a court had been right to block the release of documents about the treatment of detainee Binyam Mohamed....He said making the information public against U.S. wishes would "cause real and significant damage to the national security and international relations of this country."
Mohamed, 31, was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 and claims he was tortured there and elsewhere. Charges against him have now been dropped, and British officials expect him to be released from Guantanamo soon.
The real reason the documents were not released, of course, had nothing whatsoever to do with the security of either country. The real reason is the documents document crimes – domestic and international crimes – committed by both countries.
It's all about the growing disconnect between the stated values the West believes it personifies, and its own recent behavior. It's the very same kind of behavior the West is quick to condemn when it occurs in countries we don't like. But the West now seems able to rationalized that same behavior as justified when conducted under the rubric of "national security." When we do it, the reasoning goes, we are doing it in furtherance of higher goals -- Godly goals even.
(Or, as Barry Goldwater might put it if her were around today, "Torture in the pursuit of freedom is no vice.”)
And now they've even corrupted system of Western justice itself in the pursuit of keeping a lid on it all. From the US Dept of Justice to the courts, justice is not being done. Not even close.
The election of Barack Obama held out hope that this cynical, dishonest and felonious trend would be reversed. It now looks like it will not exactly reverse. I suspect some of the worst behavior will either end or moderate. There will be less torture, less detention and more legal rights.
But what there apparently will not be is more openness and a return to the key premise that what set Western democracies aside from tyrannies is that no one is above the law. Incriminating government documents will continue being withheld from public or court review. And investigations into alleged illegalities committed by the last US administration will go uninvestigated, at least if the past and current administrations or Congress have any say in the matter.
If you doubt that, you need only to have listened to the confirmation hearings for Obama's CIA director, Leon Panetta:
CIA nominee Panetta: 'We've got to move forward'
WASHINGTON (AP) — The man nominated to head the CIA, Leon Panetta, says it's time for the agency to move ahead, not to dwell on the harsh treatment of foreign detainees in the previous administration....Panetta is appearing in his second day before the Senate Intelligence Committee. He told senators Friday that he doesn't intend to "to go to the past."
Panetta will oversee the end of "enhanced" interrogation and the closure of secret CIA jails. But he says the Obama administration will not prosecute those who participated, because they were acting on the legal authority of the Justice Department...Panetta says those who were following the legal opinions provided by the Justice Department at that time shouldn't be investigated or prosecuted.
Let me put that in terms those of us of a certain age will find familiar: “Give them a break. They were only following orders.”
Yes, 65 years after we hung Germans for carrying out crimes under orders, we have now decided that “just following orders,” should in fact have been a legitimate defense after all.
So, let me get this straight; we are not going to prosecute the guys who issued the orders, and we are not going to prosecute the guys who carried out those orders. I see.