Lawyers have long believed that the rule of law is society’s anchor to stability in a troubled and chaotic world. It is a truism, moreover–especially in this digital age of globalization–that when the rule of law is undermined anywhere in the world, it is imperiled everywhere in the world.
The year just past, 2007, was annus horribilis for the rule of law and for basic liberties.
This is a brief rundown of a few of the dark places in the world where the past year saw the rule of law seriously compromised.
Let’s start with Pakistan, where there was a laughable conflict between an official interior ministry report that ascribed the dastardly murder of Benazir Bhutto to a blow to the head and eyewitness accounts of a fatal bullet to the neck. President Pervez Musharraf promised a “significant investigation,” and the Bhutto family demanded an international commission be convened to resolve this intriguing factual issue. But all that happened was that a “small team” from Scotland Yard arrived in Pakistan last weekend to assist the government inquiry.
Meanwhile, security experts doubted that anything useful would be learned, since nearly all forensic evidence has been lost from the crime scene, and the Bhutto family has opposed an exhumation and autopsy. Meanwhile, the country has been plunged into political chaos.
The courts must be protected institutions in any free society. But in Pakistan, last October, in a prelude to the Bhutto assassination, judges were removed from office, beaten and imprisoned for decisions distasteful to the military government led by President Musharraf–whose writ runs to Islamabad, Karachi and Peshawar, but apparently not to the tribal encampments in the northwest part of the country that terrorists and warlords call home. The judges took the outlandish step of standing for principles guaranteed by Pakistan’s constitution, those basic to any democratic society.
In America, in another questionable exercise of the rule of law, it just came out that the CIA had ordered the destruction of harsh “interrogation tapes” said to disclose the torture of terror suspects to obtain information. The agency then lied about the existence of the tapes to the Commission investigating the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The spoliation of records in November 2005 came not only on the heels of a court order specifically telling the government to preserve “all evidence and information regarding the torture, mistreatment and abuse of detainees” now at Guantanamo, but also defied appeals in 2003 by White House and Justice Department officials, as well as top lawmakers, not to dispose of the tapes. Refusing to denounce either the infamous torture-esque “water boarding” technique that may have been disclosed on the tapes, the Bush administration, last month, stood mum on the entire affair.