After 13 years on the bench, and two more before that as a court-appointed referee, Michael Fetsch, a district judge in Ramsey County (St. Paul), reached the mandatory retirement age of 70. He agreed to an interview with the Star Tribune before transitioning to senior status.
Reflecting on his background as a public defender before he became a judge, Fetsch described the judicial system’s role in protecting the constitutional rights of the accused this way:
“[B]y protecting the worst of the worst, we protect all of us.”
That is indeed the way our system is supposed to work. At the federal level, however, something went terribly wrong after 9/11. The Bush Administration indisciminately arrested and often brutally interrogated thousands, many of whom were not by any measure "the worst of the worst." Even for those who pose a genuine threat, flouting the Constitution and international human rights law was a completely counterproductive way to proceed. It has left us, as a book by David Cole and Jules Lobel is titled, Less Safe, Less Free.
How well is the Obama Administration doing, in working to close Gitmo and turn the abusive ship of state around? The Nobel committee's award of the Peace Prize to President Obama shows how hungry the world is for a chnage in America's role in the world.
Yet picking up the pieces after the Bush debacle is no easy set of tasks. The dustup yesterday in the Senate about the plan to try Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in federal court in New York is only the latest skirmish in a hard-fought course correction.