Understanding John Yoo and the Bush presidency

Brad DeLong is continuing to maintain his stand against John Yoo.  To my mind, there is one clear way that John Yoo’s torture memos can be reconciled with his earlier writing on Clinton: He believes in the absolute primacy of the United States above all other nations.

Taking that as a postulate, placing US troops under foreign command becomes axiomatically unacceptable and was hence labelled unconstitutional [1], but allowing US agents to torture foreigners is acceptable, albeit unpleasant, because the victims are not American.

In practice, this becomes the application to the international stage of Richard Nixon’s famous 1977 quote, “when the President does it that means that it is not illegal.” Indeed, Condolezza Rice argued this exact point earlier this year (2009):

by definition, if it was authorized by the president, it did not violate our obligations under the Convention Against Torture.

This is simply the logical application (to the arena of military torture) of the belief that America should ignore all international agreements that constrain it in any way because to do otherwise would impugn the sovereignty of the greatest and purest nation in the history of mankind. You really have to admire their mental fortitude in failing to acknowledge the reductio ad absurdum that the Bush torture doctrine represented for that belief.

[1] To almost all Americans (including lawyers), the word “unconstitutional,” especially when applied in a political setting (and when is it not?), essentially means “against my ideology.”

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