Comment: The rule of law… sometimes

barbed wire

Western politicians and other public figures, charged with protecting their citizens in the face of various enemies from other points of the compass, never tire of telling us how we must defend democracy and the rule of law. In truth, there can be no democracy without the rule of law because all of our democratic rights and freedoms must be guaranteed by law or they will simply be taken away by power-hungry regimes.

With this in mind, the gradual uncovering of the US government’s international operation to kidnap and torture suspected terrorists, following the attack on New York in 2001, greatly interests me. It interests me because it shows how fragile the rule of law actually is and how it can be manipulated and even suspended whenever a government thinks it necessary. (Read about a recent report on this here)

In this particular case we can see that even though kidnapping and indefinite detention without charge was re-defined as ‘extraordinary rendition’ and torture became ‘enhanced interrogation’, the government of George W. Bush still recognized that these activities were and remain illegal. They are illegal under the US constitution and under the terms of every related international treaty to which the US is party.

Governments always know what the legal limits are, they conceptually understand what the rule of law is and that is why they establish institutions known as ‘secret police’ to monitor the activities of and run secret operations against internal and external enemies. Even the Nazi regime knew that its vast network of industrial murder was a serious breach of everyone’s’ understanding of what the rule of law means; that’s why they kept it secret even when they enjoyed total political and military control of continental Europe.

Ronald Regan knew that he was breaking the law when he continued to fund and equip right-wing death squads in Central America without the necessary approval of the US Congress; that’s why he kept these activities a secret and why he used Colonel Oliver North as a scapegoat when the truth was revealed. And anyway, who doesn’t know that the export of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ is big business for the CIA. Unfortunately many of their clients end up in jail when political fortunes change over time, as in countries such as Argentina and Chile.

George W. Bush did not want to waste time arresting, interrogating and charging suspects properly, under the law. And he knew that his international kidnap and torture scheme had to be kept secret; that’s why he sub-contracted large parts of the operations management to other governments. The 54 accessories involved, according to the report issued by the Open Society Justice Initiative, also knew that they were breaking the law and needed to keep quiet too. Collectively they agreed secretly to suspend their adherence to the democratic principle of the rule of law in support of Bush’s ‘War on Terror’.

I’m not an expert on the constitution of Romania but I am pretty sure that the facilitation of kidnap and torture, even on behalf of Romania’s closest strategic allies, is not allowed. However, quick membership of NATO and accession to the European Union after 1989 was possible due largely to the support of the US and there is always payback for favors of this magnitude. But let’s be clear, any official of any government who authorized participation in the secret US extraordinary rendition program acted illegally and they knew it at the time.

Real emergencies demand genuine emergency action and George W Bush and his advisers believed that they were doing the right thing to protect their country after the 2001 attack. What they didn’t realize, and what many fail to understand now, is that you cannot properly defend your values by suspending them whenever you wish. Democracy and the rule of law, including in Romania, can only be maintained through the permanent and consistent application and growth of democratic action defined and protected by law because governments and states are servants of their people.

That’s what western politicians tell us.

By Ronnie Smith, Guest Writer, [email protected]

(photo source: