Excusing torture and trusting authority

I agree with David Weinberger when he says American

democracy has hit a new low and perhaps a dangerous turning point when the Democrats can’t muster enough votes among Democrats to reject an attorney general candidate who is ok with torture.

David also cites Andrew Sullivan’s superb analysis, from which I’ve picked out this key argument.

The point is not a subjective judgment about the intentions of the torturers. It is not about whether Cheney and Bush can be trusted. It is about whether any individual can be trusted with such power. In a republic based on the rule of law, the intentions of the torturers – whether good or bad – are utterly irrelevant. In the West, we assume that the intentions of our rulers are likely to be evil. That’s what distinguishes the Anglo-American tradition from those who trust individuals to govern them, rather than those who trust the law to allow us to govern ourselves. The point is that no person in the United States should ever have the power to detain and torture another person without due process. Once you make an exception for one man, the rule of law is over. The Decider may decide out of his own benevolence not to torture again. But he can still torture. And the knowledge that he can, and the knowledge that he was never stopped, and the knowledge that he was able to distort the plain meaning of the law to mean whatever he wants it to mean is a precedent that is staggeringly dangerous.

Just knowing Bush has that power is an obvious inhibition on freedom. The torture itself is appalling; the threat of torture is – I think – where the poison really spreads to society as a whole.

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