For Our Own Good

by digby

This is interesting:

The military officers who rushed deposed Honduran President Manuel Zelaya out of the country Sunday committed a crime but will be exonerated for saving the country from mob violence, the army's top lawyer said.

In an interview with The Miami Herald and El Salvador's, army attorney Col. Herberth Bayardo Inestroza acknowledged that top military brass made the call to forcibly remove Zelaya -- and they circumvented laws when they did it.

It was the first time any participant in Sunday's overthrow admitted committing an offense and the first time a Honduran authority revealed who made the decision that has been denounced worldwide.

''We know there was a crime there,'' said Inestroza, the top legal advisor for the Honduran armed forces. ``In the moment that we took him out of the country, in the way that he was taken out, there is a crime. Because of the circumstances of the moment this crime occurred, there is going to be a justification and cause for acquittal that will protect us.''

I think this is a natural outgrowth of the example the US has set over the past few years. People no longer believe that the rule of law is something they must adhere to as long as they can justify their actions as being done to "protect the country." I suppose it was always so, but America has made a fetish out of this excuse through this decade so I think it's taken on a new veneer of legitimacy. Certainly, it has made it impossible for any American leader to condemn this sort of thing with even the slightest bit of credibility.

This is the paternalistic view espoused by Henry Hyde during the Iran Contra scandal, in which he claimed that if the executive broke the law for the good of the country it wasn't a crime. (He said this to justify his view that Reagan's breaking of the laws was ok while Clinton allegedly lying in a deposition was an impeachable offense.) I suppose this concept is also an outgrowth of Nixon's famous statement that if the president does it it's not illegal. When President Nixon said that, however, it was shocking to average people. However obvious it was in practice that presidents routinely evaded the power sharing intent of the constitution, very few people thought it was a good thing that the president actually wasn't required to follow the rule of law. I'm not so sure about that now.

For the last several years, many people have been saying that the president has to do whatever's necessary to keep the country safe. That's what both Bush and Obama say to justify something like preventive detention and that's what the Honduran military says it was doing when it deposed a democratically elected president. (Cap'n Ed called it a "military impeachment.") And it seems to me that people are beginning to accept this idea --- when it comes to national security, the president and the military must not be limited by such prosaic concerns as the constitution. Someone might get hurt and that must be prevented at all costs.

Once again, I think we have to ask why, as an individual American, that logic wouldn't then apply to other things. Why should the government be hindered by the rule of law at all when lives are at stake? The police and the FBI and the DEA and the ATF and Homeland Security and the Border Patrol and any of the other agencies in the vast security state apparatus should not be hindered in their jobs to keep Americans safe any more than the president is hindered in keeping America safe from terrorists. Certainly, I can't understand how you could take a chance that someone like Charles Manson or Tim McVeigh or some sociopathic gang member might be released back onto American streets, but the mere possibility that a terrorist suspect could be free anywhere in the world precludes them even having a trial. It makes no sense.

Implicit in the constitution is the understanding that we cannot be safe from all dangers --- and that one of the gravest dangers to our safety is a government which does not respect civil liberties and the principles of democracy. This "protect at all costs" mentality stands that on its head. Once you say that the government doesn't have to adhere to the rule of law for the good of the country, the whole thing loses its meaning --- and unpredictable things start to happen. Like "military impeachments."