Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Only Cowards Need Laws to Protect Them

Richard Schragger draws some interesting distinctions between the president’s lawyers and military lawyers. He argues that military lawyers not only believe the Geneva Conventions protect our soldiers from mistreatment at enemy hands, but he goes on to say that military lawyers understand that the laws of war empower our soldiers in fighting a just war (knowing an unlawful order when it is given) and in preserving their humanity. All good points, and I like the unlawful one in particular. But he goes on to explain that it’s the President’s lawyers failure to appreciate these battlefield realities that causes them to so blithely argue for changing the rules of engagement to meet this new enemy. He may be right to a degree, but I also think there’s a more piercing ignorance of battlefield reality that’s at the heart of the Bush Administration’s belief that the rules of war need to be amended. What Bush, his people and lawyers don’t get is a soldier or an interrogator retains the power to break the law. Sure, there will be consequences for them, and it’s those individual consequences that they have to weigh against the potential consequences of a suspicion or threat that they are facing. Would you spend the rest of your life in jail to save the lives of one hundred people you are sworn to protect? How about a thousand? Or tens of thousands? People have done many heroic things to save fewer and at a much greater cost than imprisonment. And this is what Bush and his lawyers don’t get. Rules are made to be broken, heroes don’t need legal justification, the people charged with protecting us from the ticking bomb will do what they have to do, even if that means sacrificing themselves, in order to fulfill their duty and live up to their honor. It’s this very basic understanding of ultimate sacrifice that neither Bush, nor apparently any of the people he’s surrounded himself with, recognize. This is the problem with the Bush Administration and their war. They’re not about to make a single sacrifice in order to win it, and because they’re not, they simple can’t imagine anyone else would put their needs second to those of a greater good.

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