In a post below, Jim Bovard links to Glenn Greenwald’s Salon piece, “The case against Elena Kagan,” calling it “the best analysis” he’s seen on why President Obama’s pick for the Supreme Court is a dangerous one. Greenwald does a good job of collecting the evidence that Kagan is no friend to progressives—or those concerned about the rise of executive power.
Where was Elena Kagan during all of this? Why is it seemingly impossible to find even a single utterance from her during the last decade regarding the radical theories of executive power the Bush administration invoked to commit grave crimes and other abuses? It’s possible that she said something at some point, but many hours of research (and public inquiries) have revealed nothing — other than when she endorsed the core Bush template during her Solicitor General confirmation hearing.
But what most struck me about Greenwald’s piece was this line near the end:
What makes the prospect of a Kagan nomination so disappointing is that there are so many superior alternatives — from the moderately liberal and brilliant 7th Circuit Judge Diane Wood and former Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears to the genuinely liberal Harold Koh (former Yale Law School Dean and current State Department counselor) and Stanford Law Professor Pam Karlan.
The “genuinely liberal Harold Koh”? Greenwald, who obviously is concerned about executive authority, should read Chase Madar’s hard-hitting piece in the latest issue of TAC. Madar details how Koh went from being one of the loudest critics of Bush-Cheney’s post-9/11 executive power grab to providing legal rationales for the Obama administration’s continuation of many of those policies.
At the end of March, Harold Koh, top lawyer at the State Department, used his keynote address at the annual confab of the American Society for International Law to make an announcement: the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles to kill suspected terrorists is legal. The drone strikes in Pakistan and Afghanistan are lawful because, Koh delineated, they are done only in national self-defense, their proportionality is always precisely calibrated, and they carefully discriminate civilians from combatants.
There’s both more and less to it than that, but the legal argument itself is of minor importance. What matters is that Koh said it. Harold Hongju Koh: renowned human rights advocate; leading theorist of international law (which, the ASIL conventioneers would happily have told you, is much more civilized than mere national law); until last year dean of Yale Law School and therefore unofficial pope of the American legal system, and former director of the school’s Orville H. Schell Jr. Center for International Human Rights; Obama appointee accused by Glenn Beck and likeminded screamers of wanting to smuggle Sharia law into U.S. courts. All of which is to say, if a liberal lion like Harold Koh says drone strikes are lawful, what more do you need to know?
Koh’s lecture—warmly applauded by the conventioneers—demonstrates once again the amazing elasticity of international law when it comes to the prerogatives of great powers. Koh’s lecture also demonstrates the accommodating suppleness of several international lawyers who, once strong critics of George W. Bush’s anti-terror policies, now see things differently from inside the Obama administration.