Glenn Greenwald’s Torture and the rule of law, albeit a little long, explains it really well.
The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer, one of the country’s handful of truly excellent investigative journalists over the last seven years, has written a new book — “The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals” — which reveals several extraordinary though unsurprising facts regarding America’s torture regime. [...]
This is what a country becomes when it decides that it will not live under the rule of law, when it communicates to its political leaders that they are free to do whatever they want — including breaking our laws — and there will be no consequences. There are two choices and only two choices for every country — live under the rule of law or live under the rule of men. We’ve collectively decided that our most powerful political leaders are not bound by our laws — that when they break the law, there will be no consequences. We’ve thus become a country which lives under the proverbial “rule of men” — that is literally true, with no hyperbole needed — and Mayer’s revelations are nothing more than the inevitable by-product of that choice.
[...] That’s the inevitable outcome when a country’s political establishment decrees itself exempt from the rule of law. If the rule of law doesn’t constrain the actions of government officials, then nothing will. Continuous revelations of serious government lawbreaking have led not to investigations or punishment but to retroactive immunity and concealment of the crimes. Judicial findings of illegal government behavior have led to Congressional action to protect the lawbreakers. The Detainee Treatment Act. The Military Commissions Act. The Protect America Act. The FISA Amendments Act. They’re all rooted in the same premise: that our highest government leaders have the power to ignore our laws with impunity, and when they’re caught, they should be immunized and protected, not punished.
When our political and media elite aren’t defending the Bush administration’s lawbreaking, they’re dismissing its importance. [...]
[...] That warped mentality — as much as the most lawless elements of the Bush administration — is what is responsible for the destruction of our fundamental national character over the last seven years. “Laws” and “crimes” are only for the common people and for other countries. We’re too magisterial a country, our political leaders are too Important and too Good, to subject them to punishment when they break our laws. That’s the mentality that has created the climate of Lawlessness that defines who we are.
[...] It will never stop being jarring that Pulitzer-Prize-winning revelations from the New York Times that the President and the telecom industry were committing felonies for years culminated in the full-scale protection of the lawbreakers and retroactive legalization of the criminality by the “opposition party” which controls the Congress.