Looming Specter of Transnationalism; U.S. Needs a State Department Defender of Its Sovereign Rights

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 31, 2009 | Go to article overview

Looming Specter of Transnationalism; U.S. Needs a State Department Defender of Its Sovereign Rights


Byline: Frank J. Gaffney Jr., THE WASHINGTON TIMES

What is wrong with this picture? We learned this weekend that a Spanish judge, Baltasar Garzon, is preparing to prosecute six Americans who worked as senior legal and policy advisers to former President George W. Bush - including former Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and Undersecretary of Defense Douglas J. Feith. The purported crime? The opinions they provided Mr. Bush supported the use of torture against enemy combatants.

Most Americans would find this assertion of what has come to be called transnational law to be troubling on several grounds. Its application is an affront to due process and the rule of law in this country. It would criminalize internal U.S. policymaking deliberations, with profound implications for U.S. sovereignty. If allowed to run its course, this prosecution would have a profoundly chilling effect on the willingness of subordinates to provide a president with advice or perhaps even to serve in government.

One would hope President Obama would recognize that this use of legal mechanisms as a form of warfare against the United States - increasingly known as lawfare - holds serious dangers not just for the country and those who ran it for the past eight years, but for his administration as well. That would appear not to be the case, however, in light of his choice of Harold Koh to be the State Department's top lawyer.

In fact, as dean of Yale's law school, Mr. Koh has been an unalloyed enthusiast for transnational law. For example, in a 2006 article in the Penn State Law Review, he extolled the transnationalist faction on the Supreme Court and the wisdom shown by four, and sometimes five, of its justices in rejecting the impulses of what he disdainfully calls the nationalist faction :

"Generally speaking, the transnationalists tend to emphasize the interdependence between the United States and the rest of the world, while the nationalists tend instead to focus more on preserving American autonomy. The transnationalists believe in and promote the blending of international and domestic law, while nationalists continue to maintain a rigid separation of domestic from foreign law. The transnationalists view domestic courts as having a critical role to play in domesticating international law into U.S. law, while nationalists argue instead that only the political branches can internalize international law.

The transnationalists believe that U.S. courts can and should use their interpretive powers to promote the development of a global legal system, while the nationalists tend to claim that U.S. courts should limit their attention to the development of a national system. Finally, the transnationalists urge that the power of the executive branch should be constrained by judicial review and the concept of international comity, while the nationalists tend to believe that federal courts should give extraordinarily broad deference to executive power in foreign affairs. …

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