"Redefining Torture: Did the U.S. go too far in changing the rules, or did it apply the new rules to the wrong people?" by Amanda Ripley, Time, 21 June, p. 49.
This one almost writes itself thanks to the sub-title. A major theme in my book is that 9/11 and the resulting Global War on Terrorism triggers a rule-set reset not just across America, but much of the world (e.g., there has been a huge upsurge in new laws targeting terrorism throughout the Core). This reset consists mostly of adding in new rules where gaps are now perceived to exist, as in, "Clearly, we're missing the rules to deal with this particular problem."
Nowhere has this rule-set reset been trickier than in the area of handling, interrogating, and putting on trial suspected terrorists. Surest sign? Most of our internal debates have been about what to call these people (Enemy combatants? Terrorists? Criminals?) and which of our legal systems should handle them (the whole debate about courts versus military tribunals versus internationally sanctioned courts). The new rules on interrogating prisoners in the GWOT stayed out of the headlines by and large until Abu Ghraib broke as a story. Yes, there were ongoing complaints about Guantanamo, but the US Government, the media, and the public pretty much let that slide until Abu Ghraib put all these issues squarely on the table.
Should we be surprised that memos are being discovered that suggest "that since late 2001 the Administration has been quietly but fundamentally reshaping America's stance on torture," as the Time article reports? Not really. After 9/11, this administrationóand frankly any that followsóknows that the public will hold them far more responsible for the next 9/11 than they did for the original. I don't want an administration that is too timid in this response, because I expect my judicial system and my legislative arm to deal with any excesses. To expect the executive branch to self-police itself in zealousness is, in my opinion, the wrong expectation. We get to vote them out of office every four years if we're unhappy with their record.
Will any administration have the opportunity to race ahead of the courts and legislative branches in this ongoing rule-set reset? Absolutely, because that's what an executive function is for: dealing with the day-to-day stuff at the speed required. It's up to the other two branches of the government to self-correct and recalibrate over time, so there should be no surprise that the sequence is: executive branch races ahead, oversteps here and there, and later gets investigated by Congress (resulting in new laws of protection) and "struck down" in various instances by the Supreme Court.
My point is this: no one wants more 9/11s, and to avoid them requires a certain tightening up of the rule set. For the current administration to pursue this with vigor does not signal some Orwellian future or some tilt toward fascism, but merely the executive branch doing what it is designed to do in times of crisis. The rule-set reset is proceeding in a completely normal fashion. Our job as citizens is to speak up when we're unhappy with what the press uncovers, and push our representatives in Congress to pursue any abuses with their customary vigor, expecting the courts to step in as they can in response to suits, constitutional challenges, etc.
Bottom line: our political system is operating just fine. The rule-set reset was both necessary and quite typical in how it's unfolding.