Thursday, January 24, 2008

"I Was Just Following Orders"

Decades ago, a critically important principle in support of the rule of law was established: “I was just following orders” is not an excuse for breaking the law. When a person is directed by a government official to break the law, his obligation is to the law, not to that government official.

But that principle came under attack today, not just by the usual suspects, but by Barbara Mikulski, of all people.

As you probably know, Congress has been debating whether to grant retroactive immunity to the telecom companies who collaborated with the Bush Administration and facilitated clearly illegal spying on Americans. By shutting down all ongoing and future lawsuits against the telecom companies, Bush and the Republicans want to make sure that no one will be able to use the judicial process to uncover the extent of their illegal spying.

To do that, they have to make “I was just following orders” a legitimate excuse to break the law. Considering that this is an administration that came to power through a Supreme Court opinion that itself assaulted the very idea of the rule of law, this is no surprise.

But Mikulski’s support of “I was just following orders” was a surprise, at least to me. I have long respected Sen. Mikulski and been glad to have her representing me in the United States Senate.

I had thought that when a fundamental issue like the rule of law was at stake, we could count on our senator to do the right thing.

I guess I was wrong.

It may be years before we uncover the extent of the Bush Administration's many violations of federal law, to say nothing of the U.S. Constitution. Barbara Mikulski has made that important task even harder.