Can anyone help? I’m looking for a suitable reaction to an American government legal memorandum invoking the Nuremberg defense that doesn’t use the word “Nazi.”

Comparing actions of American elected officials to actions of the Nazis is out of bounds. We all agree on that.

Here’s the question, though:

Suppose the General Counsel of the Air Force (a political appointee) writes, and the Secretary of Defense approves, a memo arguing that the President has “inherent authority” as commander in chief to order torture, and that officials who torture prisoners pursuant to such supposed authority could use the “Nuremberg defense” (I was only following orders) to escape prosecution.

Under those circumstances, what are we allowed to say? (“Nixonian” is a correct characterization of course, but hardly adequate.) Inquiring minds want to know.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

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  1. Torture, Emperor and Forgetfulness

    Via Mark Kleiman, I came upon the story of the torture memo in the Wall Street Journal. Bush administration lawyers contended last year that the president wasn’t bound by laws prohibiting torture and that government agents who might torture priso…

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