We all have seen the images: Lawyers clad in dark suits, symbols of professional responsibility, enveloped in clouds of tear gas. Soldiers surrounding a nation's Supreme Court, and thousands of lawyers and judges, as well as several justices, placed under arrest.
Much has been written about the unfolding crisis in Pakistan, and how the US government should respond. Less has been said about its significance for the rule of law, which is more important than ever in the dangerous world we live in today.
Since Gen. Pervez Musharraf, president of Pakistan, declared a state of emergency there, the impact on lawyers in America and in other nations has been electric – virtually unprecedented in my more than 40 years of practice.
To many Americans, Pakistan's breakdown may seem vaguely routine, another eruption in a distant land. But to American lawyers, the events are shocking and immediate.
In part, it is because we see our fellow lawyers and judges in Pakistan doing something dangerous and heroic: standing up to police and soldiers, subjecting themselves to arrest for such ideals as the "rule of law" and an "independent judiciary."
Their bravery reminds us that these ideals are not abstract at all. They are the difference between nations of justice and law, and unchecked tyrannies. This crisis reminds us how precious, and fragile, the rule of law is in the United States and in all nations.
This week, lawyers gathered in Washington and states across the country to express solidarity and to stand shoulder to shoulder with our courageous colleagues in Pakistan.
The American Bar Association and other bar groups have called on General Musharraf to restore the Constitution, re-instate the Supreme Court justices, and free those lawyers he has wrongly arrested. We will continue working until the rule of law is restored in Pakistan.
As lawyers, we see it as no coincidence that Musharraf targeted his crackdown on his nation's legal community, as well as on the press and other organs of civil society.
Like a free press, judges and lawyers who are free from intimidation and outside influence are essential checks to raw power. These agents of liberty are a danger to would-be tyrants, and Musharraf has treated them as such.
When the Soviet Union collapsed, American lawyers helped draft constitutions and train judges whose work would help new democracies emerge.
We appeared to be at the start of a worldwide flowering of liberty, but today, we increasingly see those gains in jeopardy.
To advocates of the rule of law, the recent actions in Pakistan are worse than a misfortune; they are a catastrophic reversal of values we hold dear. And in a world threatened by terrorism and rising autocrats, they make our world more dangerous, not less.
America's lawyers do not claim expertise in foreign policy. But we can speak for the urgency of standing up for justice and the rule of law.
The loss of a constitution and the arrest of thousands of lawyers and judges, including those on the Supreme Court, cannot be ignored. Lawful government in Pakistan is the best way to assure security and justice.