Ibn Battuta, the famous 14th c. world traveler, spent some time as a judge in the service of Mohammed ibn Tugluq, the fabulously wealthy Sultan of Delhi. At the end of his description of that part of his life, he has two summary sections, one listing good things about his boss, one bad things.
One of the good things involved an incident where the Sultan slapped a young man under circumstances where he had no legal right to do so. The young man went to law. Mohammed ibn Tugluq made no attempt to block the legal procedings. The court found in the plaintiff’s favor, ruling that he had the right either to monetary compensation from the Sultan or to repay slap for slap. He took the second option, slapped the Sultan and, Ibn Battuta tells us, he himself saw the Sultan’s turban come off and fall to the ground.
Reading the account, two things are clear. One is that Ibn Battuta believed that the Sultan acted properly, that rulers ought to be under the law just like other people. The other is that he did not expect rulers to act that way, hence regarded doing so as particularly creditable.
Some years ago, George Bush confessed to multiple felonies committed both by himself and some of the people who work for him—interceptions of phone communications without the warrants required by FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, written to regulate just such interceptions. Under the act, either making such an interception or knowingly using information obtained by such an interception is a felony punishable by up to five years and ten thousand dollars. By Bush’s own account he had himself committed the latter felony and lots of people at NSA had committed the former.
For some reason, none of them have been charged.
Somewhat later, it came out that U.S. phone companies had turned over to the government massive amounts of customer information in violation of a different federal law. A few of the customers sued. The administration is currently attempting to get Congress to pass legislation that will immunize the phone companies from liability.
One can’t expect all rulers to live up to the high standards of the 14th century Sultan of Delhi.
(Although Bush hasn’t moved his capital several hundred miles cross-country, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of people. Yet.)