Hamdan and the Night of the Long Knives

The Supreme Court ruled in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld against President Bush’s notion that the commander in chief’s wartime powers allow him to rule the country like a dictator without Congressional oversight. (See this Glenn Greenwald post for a good explication of the decision’s significance.) But Bush doesn’t think much of the Rule of Law (caps. per Hayek’s usage). He said in response, “At any rate, we will seriously look at the findings, obviously. And one thing I’m not going to do, though, is I’m not going to jeopardize the safety of the American people. People have got to understand that.”

That sounds very reminiscent of something another leader who was very concerned about his people’s destiny once said: “”If anyone reproaches me and asks why I did not resort to the regular courts of justice, then all I can say is this: In this hour I was responsible for the fate of the German people, and thereby I became the supreme judge of the German people.” That, of course, was Hitler speaking after the Night of the Long Knives, where he authorized the execution of Himmler’s rival, Ernest Röhm, and hundreds of others deemed state enemies. That decree effictively meant the end of the Rule of Law in Germany, and replaced it with rule by the dictator’s whim.

As far as we know, “Edgar” Cheney and his dummy have not assassinated anyone — they have just detained people without trial and without accusing them of anything specific, done away with the Geneva conventions, and monitored people’s communications and financial activities without court approval or congressional supervision. And they have routinely asserted the principle of the “unitary executive” and issued signing statements explaining that they intend to disregard laws they don’t care for. We can hope that this court decision is the first step back toward democracy in a country now held to be in a state of perpetual war against terror, global extremism, Islam, Oceania, drug users, immigrants and any other unpleasant emotions or people out there. But there’s not much reason to believe that the ruling Republicans will put any limits on the president in his effort to “protect” America for “real” Americans. And fear, nationalism and demogoguery (consider the recent right-wing offensive on perceptions of Iraq and depictions of reporters as treasonous) seems likely to keep enough of those Republicans in power. Liberal blogger Digby is probably right when he argues that the Hamdan decision will just help motivate the conservative base while Democrats remain apathetic and/or defeated: “This decision will ultimately feed into conservative boogeyman number 438: judicial activism. Look for Justice Sunday IV: Vengeance is Mine Sayeth Delay. And expect many more calls to spike John Paul Stevens’s pudding with arsenic. This is the beauty of the conservo-machine. When your primary political tools are both intimidation and victimization, you can spin anything to your advantage. “