RFK buildingJohn Yoo (his former seat of power – the Robert F. Kennedy Justice Department Building – is pictured to the left; his address has since changed), a key architect of the Bush administration’s legal system practiced at Guantanamo Bay penned an article for the Wall Street Journal arguing a post facto case to justify “enhanced interrogation techniques” developed by him and his fellows for use against “enemy combatants.”

Basically, he argues, the successful operation to find and kill Osama bin Laden carried out on May 1st could not have succeeded without the information obtained through these techniques (waterboarding, for example).

Mr. Yoo has since been joined by Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld in arguing that their actions – and the whole legal system they built after 9/11 to go after al Qaeda – have been justified by the results.

Such measures are not effective techniques for obtaining intelligence, as those involved with that sort of work have testified, but the death of bin Laden has given those who favor such methods new ammunition for the fight.

In an article for The Arabist, I reported on the news that al Jazeera cameraman, Sami al-Hajj, had been held in Guantanamo Bay from 2002 to 2008 because he could help the CIA learn more about “The al-Jazeera News Network’s training program, telecommunications equipment, and newsgathering operations in Chechnya, Kosovo, and Afghanistan, including the network’s acquisition of a video of UBL [Usama bin Laden] and a subsequent interview with UBL.

Al-Hajj’s story, and the stories of many others who had nothing to do with al Qaeda (but were thrown into the legal limbo of Gitmo because they might have), is in jeopardy of being eclipsed and rationalized by bin Laden’s death.

David Sirota and Glenn Greenwald, of Salon have confronted the legal and moral ramifications of the system and its role in bin Laden’s death, and are now drawing considerable flak for their trouble.

Why does legality matter? Because as Americans, we pride ourselves on the morality and legality of our actions. The “War on Terror” is depicted as a war, yes, but is also frequently construed in existential terms and the sort of language one sees in the eponymous crime drama. Legality matters because, to lift a quote from Max Brooks’ horror novel World War Z, as Americans, “All we have are the dreams and promises that bind us together. All we have . . . all we have is what we want to be.”

That’s why the morality and legality of it matters, Mr. Yoo.

Paul Mutter is a graduate student at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at NYU and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus.

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