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Civis Americanus Sum

As JFK noted in his Ich bin ein Berliner speech, "Two thousand years ago, the proudest boast was 'civis Romanus sum.'" [I am a Roman citizen.] A Roman enjoyed the rights and privileges of his citizenship wherever he traveled, cloaked in the mantle of Roman law and might even in distant lands.

Has citizenship fallen so far that a former American president can be hounded and exiled from the wider world by threats of imprisonment in foreign lands for actions taken while presiding in office? Is America so low in estimation to the respect once due to Rome?

It seems likely that George W. Bush was forced to cancel a visit to Switzerland for fear that he would be arrested and tried for war crimes in a foreign court. Such threats have been made against other Bush administration officials, CIA agents, Donald Rumsfeld and Henry Kissenger (who has actually fled threatened abduction and prosecution abroad).

That American citizens must fear to travel abroad, lest foreign powers exert control over their liberty and judge them for acts of political administration in the United States is so far from acceptable as to provoke open hostilities on the national stage. David Frum correctly chides Obama for not protesting such a threat upon his predecessor (which he would also have reason to fear for drone attacks in Pakistan, were he not the darling of the leftist rabble raising such threats). Switzerland ought also to answer for the threat, clearly extending it's welcome to American citizens and assuring them of safe passage.

"Universal jurisdiction" is an attack upon national sovereignty to which the United States has not succumbed. It is not rule of law, but rule of the defeated and discontent. The world must be made to know that the mantle of American law and might protects her citizens in every land known to man.

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Discussions - 7 Comments

" The world must be made to know that the mantle of American law and might protects her citizens in every land known to man."

That sounds nice. Except what Bush is accused of doing also — by any reasonable lights — violated domestic laws against torture, as well as treaties to which the United States is a signatory. (The Constitution, of course, asserts that such treaties are the law of the land.)

Article 5 of the CAT—the law of the land of the United States—states: "Each State Party shall likewise take such measures as may be necessary to establish its jurisdiction over such offences in cases where the alleged offender is present in any territory under its jurisdiction and it does not extradite him pursuant to article 8 to any of the States mentioned in Paragraph 1 of this article."

In other words, if George W. Bush is in Switzerland and reasonably suspected of torture, it's Switzerland's duty—under a treaty signed by the United States—to take measures to hold him accountable under the law.

In that light, "I am a United States citizen" would be an assertion that Mr. Bush gets to live above and outside the law, rather than being subject to it himself. And the assertion that Mr. Bush's orders were merely "political" and thus not subject to such scrutiny makes a mockery of the limited government principles that conservatives such as yourself espouse.

Unless, of course, we are a nation of men and not laws.

Jose Padilla is an American citizen, too. Does that not count at all? http://www.aclu.org/blog/national-security/court-today-south-carolina-holding-officials-accountable-torture

Joel Mathis--read Raymond Aron, or Chantal Delsol. Quoting laws does not an educated person make.

(Or, if you want to stay in your fantasy-land of international law, have consistency, and call for the impeachment of Obama, who apparently refuses to enforce what you and your sources ridicuously consider to be the binding law of our land. And write me up a ticket for advocating "illegal" behavior while you're at it!)

President Obama--please show us that you have the seriousness and dignity we expect of a president, and publicly rebuke the Swiss. Be Clear.

I'm actually not happy with President Obama on the civil liberties front. But I think it's probably quite wise of him not to castigate the Swiss for contemplating upholding treaties that the United States has signed and ratified. If such treaties are a "fantasy land," then the law has no meaning. You're correct that quoting the law doesn't make me an educated person, but the law is the foundation of our argument here -- and no argument that ignores or mocks the law should be taken seriously.

Here's what the Constitution says:

"This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding."

The Convention Against Torture is the law of the United States. There's a more-than-reasonable case to be made that President Bush--and many members of his administration--violated the convention. (As well as domestic law.) To ignore that spits on the Constitution. And I include President Obama in those remarks.

You've clearly got the facts and the better argument(s) here, Joel, but I have the distinct sense that it will be entirely fruitless in this forum.

(Yes, and I, too, would gladly include Obama in any sort of war crimes prosecution - but it would seem silly to prosecute Bush and let Bush & Cheney off - for Abu Ghraib, Gitmo, the drone attacks, etc. I don't know where Frum and others get the idea that so many progressives would change their tune if Obama was charged w/ such crimes - yes, there would likely be qualms if consistency were the issue (see above), but otherwise, I think a solid majority of progressives would be okay with it. One need only look at why the left is so very disappointed with Obama.)

Also, in a comparative sense, at least Bush the former POTUS would be getting a far better deal than those US citizens who can be (have been?) assassinated on the POTUS's orders. That would be done secretly, without any sort of trial or any accountability process whatsoever.

http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2010/09/25/secrecy

"not only does the President have the right to sentence Americans to death with no due process or charges of any kind, but his decisions as to who will be killed and why he wants them dead are "state secrets," and thus no court may adjudicate their legality."

That's why he put them death panels in the health care terror act. I bet the Obamessiah has already started having Tea Partiers killed off. I know of some who have died under mysterious circemstances. Thanks to Craig for letting us know about the latest threat to American freedom.

I am not aware that George Bush has ever been convicted of torture in any court of law. Moreover, if he is then it is up to the American people to decide his fate, not some dandified European court. And I think all should agree that this sets a terrible precedent; any time one nation disagrees with the policies of another, then you have this to look forward to.

Still, I don't like the analogy to Rome. Rome was built on slave labor and brutality -- some historians equate its internal working mechanisms with those of the mafia. Essentially, it got rich by conquering its neighbors and enslaving them (Carthage, Gaul, Dacia). I don't think Americans should want to be thought of as "the new Romans."

But of course we should protect our citizens abroad, even those who are guilty of political incorrectness.

Article Two, gentlemen: "The executive power shall be vested in the President of the United States of America." That's the law of the land that is ultimately decisive here. And there is the impeachment clause for decisively preventing this power from being abused. I could (but will not) get chapter and verse w/ you guys on your tendentious interpretations of the various treaties, but at the end of the day, it is these sentences of our law that decide the matter, that anyone who swears to uphold the Constitution is swearing to uphold, and must do so against the directives of foreign entities.

But again, here I am acting as if a discussion with folks who seriously believe that the Swiss ought to have arrested a former U.S. president had he visited their nation, on the basis of (at best) very fine and disputed points regarding treaties, regarding emergency powers and regarding the perhaps undefinable border-area between interrogation and torture, is one that is serious and adult. The consequences for the Swiss, had they done this? And for President Obama, had they done this, and he had not immediately threatened them with the equivalent of economic and diplomatic Armageddon? See, Joel, this is not political thought...it is what Raymond Aron calls juridical thought.

The "world" generally cannot and will not even attempt apply your broad theory of how intl law works to the executives of other countries, and if you want to see what this would logically mean if they were to try to, which would mean virtually every other executive officer in the world subject to arrest somewhere, again, read Chantal Delsol, Unjust Justice. Scanlon sees this logic, and APPROVES of it! But Joel, he is being consistent. You "disapprove of" President Obama on the "civil liberties front?" Well isn't that nice and non-juridical. But by your own words, Obama is guilty of not abiding by and not enforcing upon Bush and his officials "the law of the land," which thereby has "no meaning." By the logic (and misinterpretations) you're following, you must join Scanlon: drag 'em all into court.

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