02-19-2017  8:42 am      •     

Sixty years ago, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson left Washington to pursue what he later called "the most important, enduring, and constructive work of [his] life": prosecuting international war crimes committed during WWII. Justice Jackson helped usher in a new international regime that promised to help deter human rights abuses.
Unfortunately, Jackson's achievements have proven less enduring than he hoped. Our nation continues to undermine international law by sweeping torture under the rug, with serious implications going forward.
The Nuremberg Trials established a timeless principle: individuals are criminally liable for violating fundamental human rights, even if their governments authorized those violations. Some laws, Nuremberg held, transcend those of any nation.
We have fallen a long way in such a short time. Rather than enforce international principles we once pioneered by prosecuting former officials who enabled torture, our nation today violates those principles with impunity. President Obama's focus on the future aims to transcend the political divisions deepened by his predecessors. But setting aside the past comes at a price.
Most concretely, failing to prosecute taints the debate on other "war on terror" policies. Preventive detention schemes, infiltrations of law-abiding groups based on constitutionally protected speech or religious activities, and secret warrantless surveillance programs each entail severe threats to the Constitution. They demand public debate.
But these debates have been skewed by the inclusion of former officials who, because they remain free from investigation, also remain free to champion their discredited policies in public. Former Vice President Dick Cheney, for example, vigorously defends the Bush administration's detention policy, despite clear evidence that torture hurt America in more ways than one.
Torture harmed our international relations with even allies like Britain, which curtailed cooperation with the CIA because of inhumane detainee treatment. Moreover, as the U.S. Air Force Major whose interrogations found the leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq has written, "Torture and abuse became Al Qaida's number one recruiting tool and cost us American lives." Criminal prosecution would place the arguments of Bush administration apologists in the context they deserve.
Other costs of avoiding prosecution are less concrete but equally severe. For instance, failing to prosecute violations, by definition, erodes the rule of law. Law entails the consistent application of neutral principles across differing contexts. Yet our nation tolerates vast inequalities in prosecution. Between 2006 and 2007, over 320,000 Americans received prison sentences for nonviolent offenses. In sharp contrast, among the senior officials responsible for authorizing torture, none have faced even a criminal investigation, let alone charges, prosecution or a sentence.
Hundreds of lawyers across the country wrote the attorney general and Congress and explained how this unequal justice undermines the legitimacy of our legal system. They wrote, "The severity of systemic disadvantages in the criminal process grows more disturbing -- and the system's legitimacy grows less secure -- when violations of our nation's most fundamental commitments carry no consequences for potential criminals who wield political influence."
Lawyers are not the only ones challenged by this bias. Nearly 500 teachers also raised their voices, noting how lawlessness impacts students: "We teach principles about our nation's history, founding, and governance that appear simply implausible…[T]he preferential treatment of senior officials who commit heinous crimes -- relative to the school-to-prison pipeline that ensnares many of their peers for relatively innocuous misbehavior -- does not escape [our students'] attention."
Thousands of other concerned Americans from all 50 states, including hundreds of health professionals and interfaith religious leaders, also observed that our country's future ability to promote human rights elsewhere turns on whether we do so here at home today.
The Bush administration's assault on the rule of law helped propel President Obama into office. Rather than fulfilling his politically daunting campaign promises, however, the administration has chosen expediency over the law.
The president himself has suggested time and again that it is ultimately up to "We the People" to defend our interests. The struggle to restore rule of law is one we will win, but only with the passionate participation of every concerned American.

Buttar is executive director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee which mobilizes grassroots action around the country to defend constitutional liberties eroded by the war on terror and restore the rule of law.

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All of this has played out amid a steady drip of revelations about an FBI investigation into his campaign's contacts with Russian intelligence officials. Trump says his administration is running like a "fine-tuned machine." He points to the rising stock market and the devotion of his still-loyal supporters as evidence that all is well, although his job approval rating is much lower than that for prior presidents in their first weeks in office. Stung by the unrelenting criticism coming his way, Trump dismisses much of it as "fake news" delivered by "the enemy of the people" — aka the press. Daily denunciations of the media are just one of the new White House fixtures Americans are adjusting to. Most days start (and end) with presidential tweets riffing off of whatever's on TV talk shows or teasing coming events or hurling insults at the media. At some point in the day, count on Trump to cast back to the marvels of his upset of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November election and quite possibly overstate his margins of support. Expect more denunciations of the "dishonest" press and its "fake news." From there, things can veer in unexpected directions as Trump offers up policy pronouncements or offhand remarks that leave even White House aides struggling to interpret them. The long-standing U.S. policy of seeking a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Trump this past week offered this cryptic pronouncement: "I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one." His U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, the next day insisted, "We absolutely support a two-state solution." Trump's days are busy. Outside groups troop in for "listening sessions." Foreign leaders call or come to visit. (Or, in the case of Mexico's president, cancel out in pique over Trump's talk about the planned border wall.) After the president signed two dozen executive actions, the White House was awaiting a rush order of more of the gold-plated Cross pens that Trump prefers to the chrome-plated ones used by his predecessor. Trump hands them out as souvenirs at the signing ceremonies that he points to as evidence of his ambitious pace. "This last month has represented an unprecedented degree of action on behalf of the great citizens of our country," Trump said at a Thursday news conference. "Again, I say it. There has never been a presidency that's done so much in such a short period of time." That's all music to the ears of his followers, who sent him to Washington to upend the established order and play the role of disrupter. 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Trump shouldn't mistake the fact that some of his supporters like his style with the fact that a lot of Republicans just want the policies he promised them. He has to deliver that." Put Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in the camp of those more interested in substance than style. "I'm not a great fan of daily tweets," McConnell said Friday, referring to the "extra discussion" that Trump likes to engage in. But McConnell was quick to add: "What I am a fan of is what he's been actually doing." He credits Trump with assembling a conservative Cabinet and taking steps to reduce government regulation, and promised: "We like his positions and we're going to pursue them as vigorously as we can." The challenge may be to tease out exactly what Trump wants in the way of a health care plan, tax changes and trade policy. 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