Has anybody else noticed the parallel between Pakistani strongman Pervez Musharraf's attempted suspension of Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry and the Gonzales Eight Massacre (as named by Dorf on Law blogger and Seton Hall law professor Thomas Healy)? For those who haven't been paying close attention, last week Musharraf "suspended" Chaudhry on vague charges that most observers believe to be trumped up pretexts to eliminate a jurist who has shown himself willing to follow the law. Chaudhry was taking seriously charges of government human rights violations and had the audacity to suggest that eventually there should be an election to choose Musharraf's successor.
To be sure, a threat to judicial independence is a greater threat to the rule of law than is a threat to prosecutorial independence. As noted on this blog and elsewhere, there is at least a plausible argument that prosecutors ought not to be independent of the President. It's noteworthy, though, that even AG Gonzales now acknowledges that "mistakes were made" rather than claiming that "the unitary Executive was at work." (Insert your own joke here about who made the mistakes and what made them mistakes rather than, say, impeachable offenses.)
From the Bush Administration's perspective, the coincidental timing of the Chaudhry firing and the Gonzales Eight Massacre is awkward at best. The Administration has been trying to pressure Musharraf to take more (some?) serious action against the Taliban and al Qaeda in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan and has even been reconsidering the long-held assumption that without Musharraf, Pakistan would become an Islamic fundamentalist state. The Chaudhry affair would offer a perfect excuse to cut Musharraf loose---or at least to increase the pressure on him---were it not for the fact that, in light of the Gonzales Eight Massacre, any invocation of this particular scandal would appear hypocritical.
Meanwhile, one can only marvel at the bravery of the bar in Pakistan. Lawyers took to the streets en masse to protest Musharraf's shabby treatment of Chaudhry. Having had the good fortune of meeting with a number of visiting law students and legal scholars from Pakistan over the years, I can attest to their commitment to constitutional democracy, even in the face of repeated coups and the threat from the Islamists. More on this story later in the week from Dorf on Law South Asia expert and Fordham Visiting Assistant Professor Anil Kalhan.