Harold Koh, a former dean at Yale's law school, is not the first nominee to a legal position in the Obama administration to face the right-wing smear machine, but for now, he is where their ire is focused. Koh's sin? Right-wingers are convinced he said that Sharia law could be applied in the United States at a Yale Club dinner, an account which the organizer of that dinner calls "completely fictitious." The rumor started with Meghan Clyne, a former Bush speechwriter, after she published an op-ed in the New York Post. Koh is up for the position of legal adviser to the State Department. Dahlia Lithwick has a good piece in Slate outlining the smear campaign against Koh.
Similarly, Office of Legal Counsel nominee Dawn Johnsen is under fire, ostensibly for remarks she made comparing forcing women to carry unwanted pregnancies to term to "involuntary servitude." Big Bad John Cornyn reportedly said Johnsen didn't have the "requisite seriousness" for the job.
But the ugly subtext to conservative opposition to both nominees is tied to the question of torture. In June of 2004, Koh described the legal reasoning in Justice Department memos on torture as “embarrassing” and “abominable.” Likewise, Johnsen blasted the legal reasoning of one of John Yoo's torture memos: "The shockingly flawed content of this memo, the deficient processes that led to its issuance, the horrific acts it encouraged, the fact that it was kept secret for years and that the Bush administration continues to withhold other memos like it -- all demand our outrage." Seriousness within the Beltway requires a complete disregard for human rights, and even domestic and international law when it comes to torture. Anything less is a refusal to recognize the magnitude of the threat posed by terrorism. Outrage is reserved for important issues, such as marital infidelity.
It is, however, difficult to mount a defense of putting people in coffins and beating them to death while they hang from chains hooked to the ceiling. Clyne writes that Koh is "a fan of transnational legal process," arguing that the distinctions between US and international law should vanish." In order to make United States compliance with international law and treaties that govern the treatment of detainees sound scary, the right has produced this unverifiable "Sharia" canard. Both Koh and Johnsen are in a position to influence the administration's treatment of detainees and help prevent the outright lawbreaking of the Bush administration from happening again.
Which is exactly why the right is so threatened by them.
-- A. Serwer
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