Monday, August 24, 2009

Obama administration to Bush regimistas: Not to worry, we've got your back


No, nobody got off at Nuremberg because they were "only following orders," but at Nuremberg we at least tried to make sure the people who gave the orders were prosecuted.

"I applaud Attorney General Holder’s decision to appoint a prosecutor to review the shocking violations of law that took place under the Bush administration. We cannot simply sweep these abuses under the rug. This investigation should not be limited to those who carried out interrogations or to whether the abuses they engaged in were officially sanctioned. The abuses that were officially sanctioned amounted to torture and those at the very top who authorized, ordered or sought to provide legal cover for them should be held accountable.”
-- Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI), in a statement issued this afternoon

(As Zachary Roth reported for TPMMuckraker, similar sentiments were voiced by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy of Vermont and, in a joint statement, by House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers of Michigan and Constitution Subcommittee Chairman Jerry Nadler of New York.)

by Ken

On torture, on the political subversion of the Justice Department, the Homeland Security Department, and everything else in the Executive Branch, on the campaign of lies that took the country to war -- on just about any issue of American governance in the yeas 2001-08, there is so much misconduct that's in urgent need of investigation with a view to whatever prosecutions may still be possible that it's hard to believe the only one the Obama administration has so far seen fit to pursue is into actual acts of torture by CIA interrogators. (As I write, rumors are in the air that one result, not yet explained, may be the resignation of CIA director Leon Panetta.)

With the five-year-old CIA inspector general's report now released, and the attorney general in possession of a report by his department's Office of Professional Responsibility, the adminstration clearly wants to appear on top of the issue. First, President Obama announced that the decision of whether to prosecute anyone would be left entirely to Attorney General Eric Holder, and then the AG announced that he has appointed John Durham, "a longtime federal prosecutor from Connecticut" (seen here in 2006 when then-AG Judge Malarkey named him to investigate the case of the destruction of CIA interrogation tapes), as the NYT's David Johnston and Jeff Zeleny put it, "to examine nearly a dozen prisoner abuse cases in which detainees were held by the Central Intelligence Agency." Among those cases are four that are being reopened after being closed by Bush regime self-investigators.

Should these people be prosecuted? I don't know. I'm not crazy about the idea of them going un-punished, but really, in terms of sending messages, is this one anywhere near the top of the list of those we need to be broadcasting? Yes of course, the U.S. officially rejects the "I was only following orders" defense, as we made clear in the Nuremberg prosecutions after World War II. But for goodness' sake, at Nuremberg we didn't have low-level flunkies being tried while the people who gave the orders were going scot-free.

Now that the U.S. political opposition has adopted the Rule of Lies and Lawlessness as its basic operating principle, it should be more painfully clear than ever that people in this country who get their hands on the levers of power will try to get away with absolutely anything they don't believe they're likely to be appropriately punished for. The perpetrators and their enthusiasts are, of course, the very same people who are wont to lecture the rest of us about the importance of law and order. I'd laugh if it was funny.

You've got to congratulate the attorney general for what amounts to a lose-lose proposition. His move is likely to be fairly unpopular politically among Americans who haven't been helped to understand why prosecuting government lawbreakers is so important (the standard explanation for why so little serious investigation of Bush era criminality has been investigated), as well with members of supporters of the president who don't understand why his administration doesn't grasp this either, while at the same time accomplishing hardly anything toward correcting the problem of government machinery that approved and executed a torture policy.

Hey, I'm just improvising here, but maybe in the future we can just make sure the people who carry out our torture policies aren't government employees. Maybe we could hire, like, contractors to do our dirty work for us, beyond the reach of the law.

The pathetically limited reach of the law, I should have said.

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At 8:19 PM, Anonymous Tech said...

Investigating CIA interrogators is going to open up a big can of worms.

At 7:55 AM, Blogger KenInNY said...

Not necessarily, since the mandate is VERY narrow. Namely: Did the interrogators exceed their instructions? That seems to be the ONLY question that's going to be considered.



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