Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Lincoln, Jackson(s), Habeas, and Torture

Abraham Lincoln famously complained that in insisting on the availability of habeas corpus in the midst of the Civil War, his critics were advocating that "all the laws, but one, go unexecuted, and the government itself go to pieces, lest that one be violated." Along with Robert Jackson's "The Constitution is not a suicide pact," Lincoln's line has become something of a motto of those who advocate limiting civil liberties in times of war and other threats to national security. In fact, another Jackson got there first. In defense of his refusal to comply with a habeas order, Andrew Jackson, then the American major general charged with defending New Orleans against British attack in the War of 1812, asked: "Is it wise to sacrifice the spirit of the laws to the letter, and by adhering too strictly to the letter, lose the substance forever, in order that we may, for an instant, preserve the shadow?"

Caleb Crain quotes Jackson's question in a fascinating book review in the current New Yorker. As Crain explains, Jackson imprisoned Louis Louaillier, a state legislator who had written a newspaper piece critical of Jackson's continuance of martial law in New Orleans even after the defeat of the British force in New Orleans and the conclusion of a treaty ending the war (news of which had informally reached New Orleans). Jackson also imprisoned the federal judge who ordered Louaillier freed. After martial law was lifted, Jackson was tried for his acts, resulting in a fine, but almost 30 years later (and after Jackson's Presidency) Congress voted to reimburse Jackson for the fine.

One lesson Crain draws from the episode is that habeas corpus has never been especially popular in times of actual or perceived national crisis. A second lesson we might draw bears on current debates not only about habeas but also torture. The argument against an absolute ban on torture typically relies on the ticking bomb scenario: If you knew to a certainty (or even a high probability) that a terrorist in your custody had planted a ticking bomb in a major population city, it would be immoral not to torture him to find the bomb's location. Some people oppose the argument on deontological grounds, rejecting the utilitarian calculus, but many others think that deontological side constraints lose their force where great harm is threatened and where the object of torture is himself a bad actor. Some of these utilitarians nonetheless resist the conclusion that torture is sometimes justified by pointing out that in the real world, government authorities will be prone to mistake. They also note that torture often leads to faulty information. Whatever the relative force of these arguments, the Jackson episode reminds us of another ground for resisting the ticking-bomb argument: Government officials not only make mistakes but also become drunk with power. No realistic assessment of the threat posed by Louaillier's letter, much less the habeas order of the federal judge, could have warranted their imprisonment. We can expect (and have seen) similar abuses where government officials have the power to torture.

16 comments:

Garth said...

I don't know if Lincoln or Jackson allowed the torture of european prisoners; Indians maybe.

But the broader point I wanted to make, was that both Lincoln and Jackson, and Madison too with the Aliens & Sedition Act, used these tools against journalists.

And not just any journalists. They went after the rags that fomented opposition to Federal policy. Those rags were run by people "outside" the beltway and they were scathing.

Now blogs are filling the role once played by America's pamphleteers and rogue press.

But these actions were taken publicly and in full view while many of the Bush arrogations of power come sercretly and seem designed so as not to protect us, but to increase the power of the government to intrude into our lives.

Russell said...

There's another lesson that can be learned from Congress's "forgiveness" of Jackson's actions after the fact: if there's an extremely exigent circumstance (or at least one perceived to be), the government is likely to order extra-legal measures anyway. And the power then lies in the President to use the pardon power to excuse the conduct after the fact, notwithstanding the law, if he or she believes it appropriate. Thus there's even less of a reason to legalize the conduct in the first place.

(Separation of powers doctrine then dictates, of course, that the President in effect substitutes him or herself for the original accused, and Congress can move to impeach and remove if it believes the pardon was unjustified...)

MW said...

If you want to know the real lesson about Jackson, read the book that Crain's article is based on: Andrew Jackson and the Politics of Martial Law: Nationalism, Civil Liberties and Partisanship.

Posted by the author: Matthew Warshauer

Cromulus said...

To Garth:

Jackson did allow corporal punishment to be used against Europeans in Florida when he put to death Ambrister and Arbuthnot, two Englishmen who by almost all accounts were not guilty of the charges brought against them.

As a matter of fact, Arbuthnot had been sentenced to receive 100 lashes until Jackson countermanded the punishment and demanded death instead.

Worse than in New Orleans, Jackson was in Florida in a mostly illegal incursion on Spanish territory.

Lincoln, on the other hand, has better constitutional ground to stand on. He was accused of lifting Habeas Corpus in Maryland when union soldiers came under attack from unruly crowds.

The constitution gives Congress the right to lift habeas corpus in case of a national emergency such as war, but not the president. In Linconln's defense, Congress was not in session at the time and the congressional representatives who would have opposed his wishes had already seceded from the nation at that point. Had congress been in session they would surely have lifted habeas corpus.

It should also be noted that the supreme court justice who complained so bitterly about the suspension is the hateful Roger Taney, a Jackson appointee who saw no problem with Jackson's application of draconian measure but complained bitterly about Lincoln's.

Taney is most famous (perhaps infamous would be better put) for his role in the Dred Scot decision.

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情報局 said...

三木市のデリヘル情報が満載の三木デリヘル情報局。

篠山市のデリヘル情報が満載の篠山デリヘル情報局。

丹波市のデリヘル情報が満載の丹波デリヘル情報局。

猪名川のデリヘル情報が満載の猪名川デリヘル情報局。

明石市のデリヘル情報が満載の明石デリヘル情報局。

播磨のデリヘル情報が満載の播磨デリヘル情報局。

稲美のデリヘル情報が満載の稲美デリヘル情報局。

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