“We will defend our people and uphold our values,” President Barack Obama declared, “through strength of arms and rule of law.”
Obama was right to describe the “rule of law” as a weapon the United States can use to defend itself. But the administration’s insistence on enveloping its counter-terrorism efforts in excessive secrecy flouts the rule of law. A proud American ideal is being turned into a liability, not an asset.
“It’s not sufficient for the administration to say, ‘Trust us, we’re taking care of it,’ ” said Amrit Singh, author of a new Open Society Institute report that raises numerous questions about the United States’ use of rendition and torture since 2001. “There needs to be greater transparency.”
One reason residents of Pakistan, Yemen and other countries so bitterly oppose covert drone strikes is that they flout the “rule of law.” A legal concept that dates to Aristotle, the rule of law means the legal code’s supremacy over autocratic rule-by-dictat.
Given the current unrest in the Middle East, Americans’ cynicism about the spread of such ideals is understandable. But the “rule of law” is a galvanizing concept around the world. From Syria to Brazil to China, people are demanding governments that are accountable to them, less corrupt and merit-based. Establishing those ideals is extraordinarily difficult, but the popular desire is clear.