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Will Obama Administration Signal Return to Rule of Law?

Will Obama Administration Signal Return to Rule of Law?
By Brian Baxter | The American Lawyer

President-elect Barack Obama will have a lot on his plate during his first 100 days in office.

Foremost among the pressing issues he faces: rebuilding America's reputation in the international arena, says Philippe Sands, author of "Torture Team: Rumsfeld's Memo and the Betrayal of American Values." The book, excerpts of which appeared in a May 2008 Vanity Fair feature story, examines how U.S. lawyers abandoned the Geneva Conventions and other international protocols after the 9/11 attacks. (The Am Law Daily's Brian Zabcik conducted a two-part Q&A with Sands about the book in May. You can find those interviews here and here.)

The Am Law Daily caught up with Sands, a noted British professor and practitioner of international law who has been called to testify before Congress three times, to get his take on how an Obama administration might distance itself from the policies of its predecessor.

In your opinion, how far has the U.S. strayed from international norms during the past eight years?

The worst excesses occurred in the first term, but many were allowed to linger into the second. I think there was a conscious effort to do some minimal cleanup and we saw a few instances of what I call "re-engagement." But taken as a whole, the last eight years have been catastrophic for perceptions of the U.S. around the world and its capacity to fulfill its historic engagement with the rule of law. That's the crucial point.

Is the U.S. still that "beacon of law" to the international community?

We all hold the U.S. to a particular standard because it has been the global leader on the rule of law. And that has significantly eroded. But I think that people distinguish between the U.S. and the administration and so I'm hopeful that however bad it has been, this should not necessarily carry over to the next administration.

I take it the new administration has you hopeful?

With the election of a president who gives every appearance of having a strong connection to the rule of law, I think a lot of people are optimistic that this can be cleaned up. It hasn't been so bad that this is irreparable. The U.S. has a unique place in leading global efforts on the rule of law, which means while there has to be some looking to the past, it's equally important to assist the new administration in repairing the damage and moving on.

What preliminary steps should an Obama administration take that would reassure the international community that change is in the offing?

I think that there are words and then there are actions. I think it would be helpful to go into a little more detail and make explicit the U.S.' re-engagement with the rule of law domestically and internationally. The specifics of that mean no more torture, no more rendition, no more unilateral acts that blatantly violate rules, and developing timetables for shutting down Guantanamo and ending the "assault" on the International Criminal Court. [The U.S.] doesn't need to ratify the ICC but they need to stop demonizing it.

The new administration should also commit itself to strengthening the rule of law by signing on to existing international agreements or helping lead the negotiations of new agreements. In the early days words are going to be important, but a few actions are also going to be needed.

What about domestically?

The Military Commissions Act of 2006 should be revoked. It purports to provide immunity for any person associated with criminal wrongdoing in relation to the treatment of detainees. All of these [laws] send out a signal that this administration is willing to tolerate wrongdoing and criminality. That needs to be reversed.

How soon do you think the U.S. can rebuild its "rule of law" image internationally?

I think a great deal of the damage can be undone pretty expeditiously. Obama has already sent very strong signals that he represents a return to multilateralism, a return to cooperation, and a return to a U.S. that recognizes international rules as a useful means for addressing global problems and not as a threat to American sovereignty.

You've written several books, some of which deal with the U.S. and international criminal justice. How likely is it that we'll see a Cheney or Rumsfeld involved in some sort of criminal inquiry?

I've testified three times [before Congress] on those issues. Even since the election, I've been reached out to by Congress and this issue is very firmly on the agenda. I have refrained from calling for a criminal investigation or indictment of anybody. The first thing that needs to happen is establishing the facts. But if the facts are as they appear, then something is going to have to happen to allow the country to move on.

Does the U.S. need a South Africa-style Truth and Reconciliation Commission?

You can have truth and reconciliation or other far-reaching commissions of inquiry, but if those things don't sort out then the stick or carrot of criminal investigation either in the U.S. or elsewhere could be on the agenda. My thinking though is that we need the facts first and that'll need to be sorted out fairly quickly.

Are there investigations already under way?

You'll be interested to know that within the past 10 days the British government has initiated a criminal inquiry of potential individual responsibility of CIA and British intelligence officials for issues of detainee interrogation and abuse. This subject is not going to go away and a new president is going to have a delicate balancing issue. But as long as he relies on the bigger picture -- that we are a rule of law society -- I think he'll be fine. [Obama] shouldn't engage in witch hunts but he'll have others -- like a new attorney general -- to look at all of this very carefully. Congress already has.

What about presidential pardons for those involved in detainee issues?

It would be a stupid thing to do because it would make it more likely that there would be investigations. The U.S. is not a country that does impunity or immunity. If anything, it is a country that believes in the dignity of every human individual under the law. And when the Bush administration moved away from that, I think we all felt very vulnerable and threatened. I'll be talking at Berkeley Law School on November 18 about the issue of criminal responsibility and detainee abuse.

Will you be meeting John Yoo?

I'll be talking about him. We've met before but I don't think he'll be engaging with me on this occasion.


This article first appeared on The Am Law Daily blog on

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you guys crack me up! Rule of Law? are you fucking serious?

that died with all the Bush Bastard Secret Edicts and Executive Orders.

there's no RULE OF LAW,


The pelosi and bush deal. Take impechment off the table and we give the demassees 08 election!

WE THE PEOPLE GAVE UP IMPEACHMENT TO ALLOW OBAMA TO WIN THE ELECTION and exclude the view point of all other president contenders VIOLATION ALL ELECTION LAWS regarding equal time and equal access to media.

These are pure babblings of an complete Idiot.

...but an interesting hypothesis, nonetheless.

"A country without a Soul is destined for Hell...on Earth."

How stupid! You are just bitter because Nader didnt win. Take off your tin foil hat!

If you take your blinders off...

Nader had no chance of winning in this country. So, once again, we must be prepared for another huge dose of disappointment thanks to the war party which co-opts progressive ideals and then ignores them.

"Fool me twice, shame on me......"

The third party candidacy has always simply been a soapbox for Ralph Nader since 1972, no Oval Office for him. He does not want to be a true contender for POTUS. Does somebody become a boxer then refuse to jump into the boxing ring? If Nader was sincere about becoming president, then he would give it his all and would run as a Democrat and really throw his hat into the ring and go for it. As Nike says, he would "Just do it!" If he did win, he could easily start a true third party as an incumbent for a second term.

IMPEACH BUSHCO & RICO PNAC/FARA AIPAC...PNAC is Bush/Cheney's "Helter Skelter" !


and HIS strategy, and we all know just how fruitful those gambits were.

Running for office as an anti-corporate, pro-democracy Democrat in national politics is becoming rare. The pro-corporate Obama candidacy has proven that once again (Clinton, too).

Nader is a wee bit smarter than anyone who haunts this site. (No offense to any who see themselves as geniuses.)
Nader understands that unless you are blessed by Wall Street, the Pentagon establishment, and AIPAC your viability as a national candidate is over. Instead, Nader presents basic truths about the state of our democracy. And he fights to get them heard. The rest is up to the sheeple. That's what democracy is all about (and that's why we are pretty much fucked.)

Candidacies of Nader, Paul and Kucinich are symptoms of the unrest in the land. We have two years to focus that unrest, give it a voice, fund it, and use it to scare the living crap out of members of Congress who view their constituents with disdain.

Your suggestion that Nader run as a Democrat shows your ignorance of the straits this democracy is in, yank.

And he was a gentleman and dropped out when the odds were against him. He does not let his ego get in the way of the common good. And Dennis Kucinich was really running for President, he was a real candidate , he was going for the White House, FOR THE PEOPLE, not for his message, or ego. Kucinich is the real deal.

I've been watching Nader run since 1972 as an Independent with no chance of winning ever, and I wish he would gracefully bow out and stop scaring the shit out of voters by potentially spoiling OUR ELECTION again (it is not all about Ralph Nader, ya know, it's all about US). I have followed Ralph Nader's career longer than you know, since his consumer advocate days . I love him that way, fighting the good fight for the public common cause, not when he plays interference with OUR fight as a phoney candidate. The American election is not a game, not his toy to play with, and I wish he would find a more respectable soapbox than playing with our votes and our donations and our lives that way. Obama won. Why do we still have to hear about Nader losing? That was his plan all along . It always is, always has been, for 36 years.

ARREST BUSHCO & RICO PNAC/FARA AIPAC...PNAC is Bush/Cheney's "Helter Skelter" !



You got the lesser of the two evils you wanted so badly, so now set back and watch all the action that won't happen.

Business as usual.

You haven't heard the last of Nader yet:

Al K.

I won't be "setting back". Americans have just gotten started!

ARREST BUSHCO & RICO PNAC/FARA AIPAC...PNAC is Bush/Cheney's "Helter Skelter" !


A presidential election totally historic in its scope and proportions fullfilling our founders dream of "a more perfect union", and the sweet simple promise of change for a great nation anxious to move forward with Barack Obama, the nation's first black president.

All is well so far, EXCEPT, in order to proceed safely it becomes necessary, even crucial, to look back at the totality and enormity of Bushco's crimes against the American people and their Constitution in the last eight years and demand accountability for all these high crimes and misdeeds only by quickly restoring the rule of law on Bushco.

Only by pausing for a moment in the rush to a new future and commencing immediate impeachment proceedings in Congress on Rep Dennis Kucinich's 4 pending impeachment bills and 39 Articles of Impeachment, Click Here, will the new President Barack Obama and his new 111th Democratic Congress make a clean break with the past and go forward to face a new day and a new time for the American people.

The American people will know when a clean break is at hand BUT their dissatisfaction and yearning for something more will remain when Obama moves forward without taking that crucial pause to look back.

This article makes the same mistake that all the other namesake authors and news media shows spews forth. Opinion and advice of how the American people can make a clean break and begin the process of healing.

What a deceptive remark to say the least, a massive move in an attempt to personally benefit in a small recognizable way, the proof of which is clearly revealed in the fact that President Elect Obama did in effect run for the office with the simple means of speaking the truth to all the United States people and only the truth.

Therein lays the truth of a clean break already completed and completed extremely effective and permanent. Now is not the time to look back, but rather to look forward to remaking our nation to its once greatness not so ,long ago and to do so mindful of our recent history and pitfalls that will forever linger in our minds hopefully, at some point, fulfilled with just and fair closure.

Let us not attempt to second guess President Elect Obama, but rather offer him our support in this terrible for our most immediate priority relates to feeding and housing our people.

We do not need the blessings of anyone or anything, just apply the new United States of America way.

John J. Coghlan

This article is a pile of Bill Shit. You don't end the torture, and the murder of children, by fazing it out. You stop it dead in its tracts. You arrest, prosecute, and lock up all who were involved. We will never have good standing in the world until the thugs who have been brutalizing the world are brought to justice. The world does not see us as we see our self. They are not subjected to the propaganda that we are. The world sees clearly what we are not allowed to see on television, or read in our newspapers. They will not forgive Butcher Bush until he is brought to justice.

The people of the world apposed the illegal invasion of Iraq. Possibly as many as 30 million people world wide staged the largest anti war protest in world history. While ordinary people protested, their leaders remained silent, or gave support. This happened for economic reasons, or because of fear of our powerful military.

America is going broke. As the economy crumbles, so is our means to maintain a strong military.

I do not think the Bush Administration will ever be held accountable for their crimes in this country. I don't think they would ever allow extradition of our political leaders under present circumstances. The thing is, if we louse our economic base, and our military superiority, may be international courts could just come in and take them without our permission. Another possibility is, we are so deeply in debt to other countries, that we may find it necessary, for good will reasons, to turn the criminals over to the international courts.

Most likely George Bush will retire. They will build him a library, and he will spend the rest of his years in blissful comfort. There is no justice in the United States. While they lock up poor people for petty crimes, rich murderers, like O.J. Simpson, and George Bush, play golf.

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