Fletcher Features

Professor Glennon: “Torturing the Rule of Law: Why the President, Congress and the Courts Do Little to Change U.S. National Security Policy”

“I think that this current dissatisfaction of the American public in response to the torture report will continue, it will be debated for the next several weeks, several months—as the Snowden disclosures were—and gradually it will be forgotten as the Snowden disclosures have been,” said Professor of International Law Michael Glennon in a sobering discussion at Chatham House in London last week, just days after the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report. “I see no significant reforms coming out of it, I’m sad to say.” 

In his remarks titled “Torturing the Rule of Law: Why the President, Congress and the Courts Do Little to Change U.S. National Security Policy,” Professor Glennon drew from the ideas he explores in his new book “National Security and Double Government” to explain why national security has changed so little from the Bush administration to the Obama administration, and why the seeming authority exercised by institutions like the Senate Intelligence Committee—charged with overseeing the activities of the CIA—is largely “illusory.”

The answer, he argues, can be found in a system of double government similar to the one first described by 19th century British scholar Walter Bagehot, in which the institutions widely held to be in power—in the U.S. this would be the “Madisonian” institutions such as the Presidency, Congress and the Courts—are actually “museum pieces” with little oversight of the decisions made by the managers of the more “efficient institutions” such as the military and law enforcement agencies.

The discussion, held December 11, 2014, was moderated by Dr. Jacob Parakilas, Assistant Project Director of the U.S. Project, Chatham House.