05/23/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Posse is Not Currently Available

Ever regret finding a book in a used book store, think about buying it, and then a long time later regretting that you had decided not to?

Many years ago I was visiting my hometown, Cleveland, and found a wonderful old bookstore. Suddenly I came across a twenty-some volume set of a complete transcript of the War Crimes Trials at Nuremberg. It was a massive set, and expensive. But it stood for me as the actual first-hand document of one of the ultimate moments in the history of humankind when the rule of law had taken the necessary first steps to restoring civilization after the world had gone mad at the hands of the barbarians.

I wanted those books today.

Two stories on The News Hour with Jim Lehrer last night offered a vivid contrast, especially had they been presented as one story. But they weren't.

First we heard the sad and even terrifying story of the young and vulnerable U.S. journalist Roxana Saberi sentenced to eight years in prison in Iran, on charges that began with Ms. Saberi being accused of the grievous crime of purchasing a bottle of wine and which escalated into her being accused of spying. Another woman on the show, Haleh Esfandiari, who had also been imprisoned in Iran on false charges explained what Ms. Saberi would be going through - such as nine hours straight questioning by an unseen inquisitor as the victim faced a wall - and it didn't take long to get that this was damn close to torture. Ms. Saberi is thinking about going on a hunger strike. What would help get her out? Well, certainly it would help if her home country could bring some good old American moral authority to the court of world opinion. Yep, sure could use that good ol'.... Now where the heck did that go?

And then came the vivid contrast. Jim Lehrer interviewed Jeffrey Smith, a former CIA official, who was there to defend the Obama/Axelrod/Rahm position that we needed to get torture behind us and move on. Michael Ratner, of the Center for Constitutional Rights, who has been outspoken on every issue regarding human and constitutional rights violations since the beginning of the 'War on Terror" was there to explain, once again, the implications of not prosecuting those who authorized and carried out torture.

The two arguments came down to two very simple statements. They were close to perfect in expressing whether or not the end justifies the means that you almost wanted to take the transcript into every Sunday school in the country for a little class discussion.

Michael Ratner simply asserted that the rule of law is necessary for civilization. Want to live in a civilized world? Then the rule of law is a requirement.

Mr. Ratner: "If people, in the high levels of government, can break the law, what kind of example does that send, first, to the American people, who want to comply with the law, and, secondly, to nations of the world that say, "Well, the Americans did this when they had a terrorist attack. Why can't we?" and then just give people some legal memos and a slap on the wrist at best, if that, and let them off.

"You just can't have a lawless world, and that's what we have here."

Jim Lehrer then asked the perfect question: "Mr. Smith, do we have a lawless world?"

Mr. Smith: "We have a lawless world, and I believe very much that the United States needs to stand up for the rule of law."

But the president's decision not to prosecute? If

...he decided that he was going to open this up and prosecute them, who knows where it might have led? I think it could have been enormously destructive to the CIA, and I think our national security is enhanced by what the president did. And I think we should let him continue to do as he wants to do.

So we have a lawless world and the president can do what he wants to do (didn't we just see how that turns out?) and somehow that is standing up for the rule of law.

And that's one of the reasons Ms. Roxana Saberi will be thinking about a hunger strike for her rights as she continues to be abused in an Iranian prison. The posse is being detained on morals charges.