Meeting the Enemy: American Exceptionalism and International Law is the title of Natsu Saito’s recent book. Natsu is an attorney and professor of law at Georgia State University’s College of Law in Atlanta. The book boldly points out how the United States violated international law since its declaration of independence. As often discussed here on Law and Disorder, international courts and institutions have been at the forefront of holding the torture conspirators accountable. Meeting the Enemy gives disturbing insight into the origins of American exceptionalism.
The duality is that the US does exempt itself from international law very consistently and very frequently and yet promotes international law very strongly and relies upon it.
It has relied upon certain premises that are fundamental to the whole outlook and paradigm of colonialism – which is that there is a higher good, a more civilized approach the US embodies.
The law doesn’t apply because we have a higher aim of civilization and that justifies not playing by the rules.
The United States making others comply with human rights standards while exempting itself.
Moving humanity toward this higher goal is so critical because if you strip that away and you look at the realities on the ground, you see what has been termed Western civilization has been incredibly barbaric.
In order to get around that analysis, you have to say it was for a higher good.
I think the “left” tends to accept the general framework, and to make particular criticisms of policies and practices that are obviously problematic. The US government engaging in torture for example, but each instant is accepted as anomalous instead of the larger picture.
It is too frightening even for the people on the left to deal with the reality that this is a country that sits on occupied land, illegally occupied by its own rules. People on the left want to make it a kinder, gentler colonialism.
I started out thinking I was writing a book about the failure of the United States to comply with international law; as I got into it, the more interesting questions were the push/pull dynamics between reliance on international law and ignoring it.
The current system of international law evolved from the international law which was the agreement between the European colonial powers of how they were not going to destroy each other in the process of taking over the rest of the world.
Guest – Natsu Taylor Saito teaches international law and human rights, race and the law, immigration, criminal procedure, and professional responsibility, and is an advisor to the Asian American Law Student Association and the Hispanic Student Bar Association. Professor Saito’s scholarship focuses on the legal history of race in the United States, the plenary power doctrine as applied to immigrants, American Indians, and U.S. territorial possessions, and the human rights implications of U.S. governmental policies, particularly with regard to the suppression of political dissent.
Elena Kagan and the Supremes – Brecht Forum
We hear excerpts from a discussion on the confirmation hearings of Elena Kagan, and how her position may influence the direction of the Supreme Court.
Martin Garbus – one of the country’s leading trial lawyers. Mr. Garbus aggressively represents his clients in the courts and in the media. He has appeared before the United States Supreme Court as well as the highest state and federal courts in the nation. His devotion to ethics, justice and the law has earned him respect among the legal community and beyond as well as prominent awards. Time magazine has named him “legendary . . . one of the best trial lawyers in the country,” while Newsweek, the National Law Journal and other media agree that Mr. Garbus is America’s “most prominent First Amendment lawyer,” with an “extraordinarily diverse practice.” The National Law Journal named him one of the country’s top ten litigators.
Margaret Ratner Kunstler – former Educational Director at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR). She’s an attorney and leads the New York City chapter of the National Lawyers Guild and heads the William Moses Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice.
Anand Swaminathan – an associate at Vladeck, Waldman, Elias & Engelhard, P.C. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 2001 and Harvard Law School in 2006. Prior to joining Vladeck, he was a law clerk for the Honorable Theodore H. Katz of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.
Michael Steven Smith – Law and Disorder co-host, author and New York attorney. Michael Steven Smith is the author, editor, and co-editor of six books, including The Emerging Police State by William M. Kunstler. He has testified before committees of the United States Congress and the United Nations on human rights issues. Mr. Smith lives and practices law in New York City with his wife Debby, where on behalf of seriously injured persons he sues insurance companies and occasionally the New York City Police Department.