"Nick Turse, who writes on the military-industrial-entertainment complex for Tomdispatch and is an expert on the matter of war crimes, offered the following comment:See, that's the military I thought I was in, and that's the level of honourable behavior and treatment of prisoners that everyone, the whole world, should be able to take for granted from the US military.'One hundred and forty-one years ago, the United States was under siege. Not today's alleged siege -- isolated if horrendous attacks that took place years ago and a motley collection of supposed mall-bombers, dirty-bombers and 'enemy combatants' (some of whom appear to have done nothing more than offend the sensibilities of John Ashcroft) -- but a real siege from an army from a breakaway republic to the south marching northward for a showdown. We remember what the Bush administration did after 9/11 -- rushed the Patriot Act through in the dead of night. What you might ask did the Lincoln administration do in the face of this threat?
'We all know Lincoln made liberal (if not wanton) use of his 'war powers' -- did this also mean secret directives allowing for rebels to be subjected to all manner of imprisonment, degradation, or torture? No. What Lincoln did was commission legal scholar Francis Lieber to produce the first modern codified set of laws of war which were issued as U.S. Army general orders and became the foundation for modern international humanitarian law.
'In the face of the greatest internal security challenge the U.S. has ever faced, a comprehensive legal code was issued that plainly and unequivocally set forth the standards by which American troops were to act, including the following axioms: 'Military necessity does not admit cruelty. nor torture to extort confessions'; 'A prisoner of war is subject to no punishment for being a public enemy, nor is any revenge wreaked upon him by intentional infliction of any suffering, or disgrace, by cruel imprisonment, want of food, mutilation, death or any barbarity'; and 'Prisoners of war are subject to confinement and imprisonment, but they are to be subjected to no other intentional suffering or indignity. ..' While these standards were not altruistic in origin, their pragmatism was still rooted in a powerful sense of morality and humanity and a realization that to protect the safety and dignity of one's own personnel, one must extend the same basic human rights to one's enemies."
A reader sent in what he considers "the crucial quote" in the presidential green-lighting of all "necessary" acts in the "war on terror." And indeed, though I missed this one, it is an exceedingly public wink-and-nod to assassination and other acts of every sort, coming as it did inthe President's State of the Union address in late January 2003, on the very eve of war with Iraq:Yeah, that is what it looks like. Proud illegal acts."All told, more than 3,000 suspected terrorists have been arrested in many countries. Many others have met a different fate. Let's put it this way -- they are no longer a problem to the United States and our friends and allies. (Applause.)"The reader adds:"Everybody knew what he meant and the Congress of the United States applauded the president's boast about murdering people in other countries without evidence, without trial, without even knowing if they were the right people being killed in a car by a remote-controlled drone. That's when it really started, when permission for this came from the very top, ratified by a voice vote of the congress."He also points out that, at the time, most coverage ignored these lines with the honorable exception of columnist and JFK biographer Richard Reeves, who wrote A Foolish President Brags About Assassination on the subject.
Another reader sent in the following quote to give a little historical ballast to the discussion. This was evidently what passed for a joke in the eyes of former Secretary of State and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, who didn't bother with legal briefs when he had crimes on the brain: "The illegal we do immediately. The unconstitutional takes a little longer." (the New York Times, Oct. 28, 1973)