The Enemies of Liberty

James Wilson:

The enemies of liberty are artful and insidious. A counterfeit steals her dress, imitates her manner, forges her signature, assumes her name. But the real name of the deceiver is licentiousness. Such is her effrontery, that she will charge liberty to her face with imposture: and she will, with shameless front, insist that herself alone is the genuine character, and that herself alone is entitled to the respect, which the genuine character deserves. With the giddy and undiscerning, on whom a deeper impression is made by dauntless impudence than by modest merit, her pretensions are often successful. She receives the honours of liberty, and liberty herself is treated as a traitor and a usurper. Generally, however, this bold impostor acts only a secondary part. Though she alone appear upon the stage, her motions are regulated by dark ambition, who sits concealed behind the curtain, and who knows that despotism, his other favourite, can always follow the success of licentiousness.

Jon Meacham:

The answer depends, at least in part, on how we turn back the page. Is a Watergate- or Iran-contra-style congressional probe the way to go? No, for public hearings encourage—demand, really—dramatic plays for attention from lawmakers. Such a stage would lead to the expression of extreme views.

So we do not want that. Nor, I think, do we want to open criminal investigations into those who participated in brutal interrogation methods. And to pursue criminal charges against officials at the highest levels—including the former president and the former vice president—would set a terrible precedent. (The presidential historian Michael Beschloss suggests that the closest parallel to a president authorizing a probe of his predecessor can be found in the 1920s, when Calvin Coolidge appointed special prosecutors to investigate Warren Harding’s role in the Teapot Dome scandal.) That is not to say presidents and vice presidents are always above the law; there could be instances in which such a prosecution is appropriate, but based on what we know, this is not such a case. [emphasis mine]

David Broder:

But having vowed to end the practices, Obama should use all the influence of his office to stop the retroactive search for scapegoats.

This is not another Sept. 11 situation, when nearly 3,000 Americans were killed. We had to investigate the flawed performances and gaps in the system and make the necessary repairs to reduce the chances of a deadly repetition.

The memos on torture represented a deliberate, and internally well-debated, policy decision, made in the proper places — the White House, the intelligence agencies and the Justice Department — by the proper officials.

One administration later, a different group of individuals occupying the same offices has — thankfully — made the opposite decision. Do they now go back and investigate or indict their predecessors?

That way, inevitably, lies endless political warfare. It would set the precedent for turning all future policy disagreements into political or criminal vendettas. That way lies untold bitterness — and injustice. [emphasis mine]

What a topsy-turvy world we live in! It is not torture that is the extremist view, but the prosecution of an inhumane and brutal crime that would be extremist. It is not letting people go free for war crimes that sets a dangerous precedent, but pursuing proper justice for criminals that sets a dangerous precedent. Nor is it the very act of torture that sets a dangerous precedent, but putting torturers in prison that would set a dangerous precedent. God forbid that our elected officials be subject to the laws! That would be bad precedent!

And in the most topsy-turvy statement of all, the pursuit of justice is turned into injustice. Indisputable war crimes should be ignored — that is justice. Prosecution for torture, following the Law of Nations, our treaties, our Constitution, and our laws — that is injustice. “Such is her effrontery, that she will charge liberty to her face with imposture.”

I may be “bitter,” but you, sirs, have no shame. The enemies of liberty are artful and insidious, indeed.

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