In the film, Guarding Tess, Secret Service Agent Doug Chesnic (played by Nicholas Cage) shoots the foot of the man who kidnapped the President’s widow (Shirley MacLaine).
Chesnic makes the bad guy (Austin Pendleton) think that he won’t hesitate to shoot him dead right there, and then the kidnapper confesses and reveals the place where the former first lady is hidden. The fans cheer Chesnic rushing over this moral and legal line and crushing the resistance of this evil-doer.
I remember feeling happy that Shirley MacLaine’s character would live to see another day — but also felt conflicted as obsessive policy junkies are prone to. As I saw this theatrical assault on due process and on the civil rights of a person who happened to be a criminal, I remembered a brilliant insight that a political science teacher of mine, Hans Baerwald, once taught me.
Hans Baerwald was (and still is) one of the titans of American academia in understanding the nuts and bolts of Japan’s political process — and one of the complicated realities of Nihon no seiji (Japanese politics) is that what one sees happening on the surface is rarely what is really driving things.
Baerwald taught me that the best time to understand the genuine norms of a political and social system is when it is under stress. When things are calm, all sorts of behaviors are possible — but stress raises the cost of being committed to a core set of principles that may be less easy to adhere to when a political system feels threatened.
9/11 pushed America into a stressful period, and some of the norms that we have held sacrosanct as a nation, particularly the civil rights of individuals accused of crimes, have been undermined by those who are less committed to our ideals in both good times and bad.
Doug Chesnic shot the foot of the bad guy to save a former President’s widow — and apparently, allegedly, American intelligence has concocted an elaborate system designed to evade U.S. laws as it promotes the torture of some it does not trust.
Read this piece from the Boston Globe today.
Here are the first few grafs:
Most here know Hill & Plakias as a family law firm that handles real estate and civil squabbles for the residents of this Boston suburb.
But the inconspicuous office above a Sovereign Bank, across from the red, white, and blue flags of a used car lot called Patriot Motors, is also the address of a shadowy company that owns a Gulfstream jet that secretly ferried two Al Qaeda suspects from Sweden to Egypt. That prisoner transfer, which occurred outside the normal extradition procedures and without notifying the men’s lawyers, sparked an international uproar after the two men contended that they had been forcibly drugged by masked US agents and tortured with electric shocks in Egypt.
This spring, the Swedish government launched a series of investigations into the 2001 operation.
Since that time, the jet apparently on long-term lease to the US military has surfaced in oth er alleged cases of what the CIA calls “extraordinary” rendition the secret practice of handing prisoners in US custody to foreign governments that don’t hesitate to use torture in interrogations.
The covert procedure, which must be authorized by a presidential directive, has gained little attention inside the United States.
Yet, “extraordinary rendition,” one of the earliest tools employed in the war against terror, has outraged human rights activists and former CIA agents, who say it violates the international convention on torture and amounts to “outsourcing” torture.

America’s intelligence services seem to be using this single aircraft (and maybe more) to ferry a vast cadre of bad guys around the world to places that will put the screws to them in ways that we won’t (well at least not since Abu Ghraib).
Read on:
In recent weeks, the practice has become nearly synonymous with the white, 20-seat, private Gulfstream jet, numbered N379P and registered in Massachusetts.
The Sunday Times of Britain reported two weeks ago that it had obtained a classified flight log of the plane that showed 300 flights from Washington, D.C., to 49 nations, including Libya, Jordan, and Uzbekistan three countries where the State Department has reported the use of torture. The story focused on the jet and Premier Executive Transport Services, the Massachusetts-registered company that owns it.
Sightings of the plane at refueling stops in Ireland and in Karachi, where it reportedly picked up another suspect have been published in newspapers across the globe and on the Internet. Records at the US Army Aeronautical Services Agency show the civil aircraft has a permit to land at US military bases worldwide.

America should be able to charge and prosecute its enemies in the light of day, and we should not fear the ability of any of these criminals to marshall a defense — in fact, their attempt to defend themselves is our chief protection of abuse of our own civil liberties by potentially reckless and abusive national government authority.
There are too many cowboys, Doug Chesnic-style, in the Pentagon — probably working with or around Douglas Feith — who don’t realize that “Guarding Tess” was fiction, a silly movie and not the template for a new era of criminal acts by government hidden within the shadows and nooks of American law and norms and the absence of such standards abroad.
Congratulations to Farah Stockman at the Boston Globe and the others who helped dig out this story of more nefarious deeds by our government. At this point, if I were working in the White House, I would be worried about war crimes liabilities as well.
We don’t need to abandon our laws and commitment to liberty to win this war — and if we do abandon everything that makes us a great nation to save ourselves in these dark times, then we lose anyway.
— Steve Clemons