Sunday, November 4, 2007

On Musharraf on Lincoln

As discussed in Naomi's excellent post above, Gen. Pervez Musharraf has called upon the spirit of Abraham Lincoln in an effort to justify declaring a state of emergency in Pakistan.
The invocation of Lincoln (right), the President who governed America at a time when its States were not United -- who saw a 4-year Civil War to its end in 1865 -- has taken the blogosphere by storm. With a hat tip to New York Times blogger Robert Mackey, that segment of Musharraf's speech is available in video above. Full text of the speech is here; here's what Musharraf (below) said about Lincoln:
I would at this time venture to read out an excerpt of President Abraham Lincoln, specially to all my listeners in the United States. As an idealist, Abraham Lincoln had one consuming passion during that time of crisis, and this was to preserve the Union… towards that end, he broke laws, he violated the Constitution, he usurped arbitrary power, he trampled individual liberties. His justification was necessity and explaining his sweeping violation of Constitutional limits he wrote in a letter in 1864, and I quote, 'My oath to preserve the Constitution imposed on me the duty of preserving by every indispensable means that government, that Nation of which the Constitution was the organic law. Was it possible to lose the Nation and yet preserve the Constitution?'
The transcript's from the post by Mackey, who also links to Lincoln's actual words.
What to say about all this?
1st, with regard to "emergency": Lincoln acted after a sizable portion of his country seceded from the Union, donned uniforms, and made war against Union fortresses within the seceded territories. The situation stands on a different plane from the political demonstrations and occasions of terrorist action that Pakistan's faced these last months. Musharraf's regime well have been under threat, given the awaiting decision on whether his re-election was valid, and the new in-country presence of a longtime political opponent, Benazir Bhutto (left), the woman who seeks once again to become the Pakistan's Prime Minister. But it's basic to the derogation rules Naomi discusses that the threat must be to the nation itself, and not simply to the state regime in power in that nation.
2d, with regard to Pakistan and post-9/11 United States: One senses that Musharraf invokes Lincoln because he cannot invoke Bush; that is, he looks to a U.S. President with unquestioned credibility as a source of justification. Yet even an analogy with President George W. Bush (right) would not well serve. The article of mine that Naomi so kindly cites (like my English-language article Guantánamo) questions whether, and if so, how long, the United States suffered such a threat post-9/11. It further criticizes the Bush Administration for acting as if there were a state of emergency yet refusing to discharge its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Those obligations:
-- Give precise and proper notice of what emergency measures it was taking (as Britain, incidentally, did); and
-- Tailor those measures precisely to the threat posed, both by limiting suspensions of liberty to the absolute minimum required and by ending all such suspensions as soon as the political climate
3d, with regard to the tailoring, or proportionality, of measures by Musharraf, Bush, and Lincoln: In the U.S. periods under review there was, as there now appears to be in Pakistan, neither any wholesale suspension of the Constitution nor any dismissal of the Supreme Court. It is true that there were in the United States curtailments of recourse to habeas corpus. As we've posted, Lincoln's abrogation of the writ remains controversial to this day, and may well prove a point of discussion during the December 5 oral argument before the Supreme Court in the Boumediene challenge to Bush's Guantánamo detention policy. Yet in neither period did U.S. emergency measures go much further than that. It is true that Bush has sought to stave off judicial review of his measures, and in the Detainee Treatment Act and Military Commissions Act Congress has tried to helped him keep the courts at bay. Yet even when the U.S. judiciary brushed aside those efforts, as did the Supreme Court in Hamdan, neither political branch has suggested anything like shutting down the courts. Nor did Chief Justice Roger B. Taney's clash with Lincoln over habeas corpus result in dismissal of Taney (left) or any other member of the Court.
Try as he might, Musharraf can find no refuge in the words of American Presidents, present or past.

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