Day By Day

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Overlawyered War

There is a great deal of disinformation out there in the MSM regarding the contents of Jack Goldsmith's new book, "The Terror Presidency." It is being portrayed as an insiders devastating critique of the administration and its conduct of the global war on terror. To read some accounts you would think that the Bush administration had seized upon the war as an excuse to broadly curtail the civil rights of Americans and that Goldsmith's book validates that extremist interpretation. But it does not. Michael Barone explains:

It is true that Goldsmith disagrees with some of the policies instituted under Attorney General Ashcroft but the thrust of his argument is exactly the opposite of what the MSM has implied. Instead of seeing an out of control administration recklessly trampling on civil liberties he sees a severely constrained administration almost obsessively respectful of civil liberties, even to the point of crippling the war effort.

he rejects the charge that the administration has disregarded the rule of law. Quite the contrary. “The opposite is true: the administration has been strangled by law, and since September 11, 2001, this war has been lawyered to death.” There has been a “daily clash inside the Bush administration between fear of another attack, which drives officials into doing whatever they can to prevent it, and the countervailing fear of violating the law, which checks their urge toward prevention.”

This dangerous situation is the result of reforms instituted in the wake of Vietnam and Watergate that had the effect of criminalizing warfare. Today,

The CIA has become so wary of possible criminal charges that it urges agents to buy insurance. Developments in international law, especially the doctrine of universal decision, also threaten U.S. government officials with possible prosecution abroad. All of this creates a risk-averseness that leaves us more vulnerable to terrorists.
It is altogether appropriate that we discard the pieties and excessive legalisms of the sixties and seventies and have a serious and responsible debate on the appropriate implementation of executive power in wartime. However, irresponsible elements of the political left and the legal community stand in the way of any productive dialogue. There will be a national debate, indeed there already is, but in the coming election year don't expect it to be very rational or reasonable. The Democratic Party has all but ensured that.