With the multi-generational project of the American Imperial Presidency seemingly at its zenith with President Obama, it might be surprising to find lessons from the Romans that aren't simply cautionary tales, but Salon's Glenn Greenwald has. The set-up:
In 63 B.C., Julius Caesar delivered a speech to the Roman Senate in which he conveyed a crucial point, one highly relevant to many of our current controversies. A conspiracy of prominent Roman citizens, led by the patrician Catiline, had been caught attempting to foment a massive civil war in order to overthrow the Roman government. Their crimes were widely reviled — it was pure treason — and, due to multiple confessions, their guilt beyond dispute.
Whatever befalls these prisoners will be well deserved; but you, Fathers of the Senate, are called upon to consider how your action will affect other criminals. All bad precedents have originated in cases which were good; but when the control of the government falls into the hands of men who are incompetent or bad, your new precedent is transferred from those who well deserve and merit such punishment to the undeserving and blameless.
In other words, Julius Caesar said "we don't execute [our own]," kind of like candidate Obama said we don't torture.
Caesar, of course, was pro-torture of the traitors, but that's beside the point. Ancient Rome's 9/11, a sinister conspiracy to overthrow the entire system of government by well-rooted elites, didn't "change everything" because 2000 years ago the Romans knew if their values and principles were to mean anything, they had to be applied consistently.
Read the rest of Greenwald's piece here