Lawyers debated the finer points of punishing heads of state this morning on NPR. After I stopped cussing at the radio, I settled down enough to ask myself this question. If heads of state break the law, do we prosecute, pardon, or just plain ignore them?
There are several things that deserve careful consideration here: political stability, the rule of law, the power of the office, the will of the people, the power of the courts. Personally, I’d like to see congress and the courts find a way to uphold the constitution in the face of the neo-con onslaught. That may mean prosecuting the Bush administration, it may not. I’d also like to see our country find some meaningful middle ground after eight years of strict polarization. Throwing a president and cabinet in prison is probably not the best way to rebuild America.
But then there is the rule of law. If an administration can simply ignore congress, the will of the people, and the constitution when it sees fit, their actions call into question what any of those things are worth in the first place. Does the constitution guarantee our inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Or is it simply a facade to pacify the masses? Does habeas corpus give us the right to our bodies? Or is that right granted to us only when it’s convenient for the government to do so?
Presidents have been impeached, they have testified before the courts, but they have never been prosecuted for their crimes. There is clearly no simple answer to the question of prosecuting heads of state. I suppose the big question I have is: what line would have to be crossed for us to do so?