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So it's come to this. After five and a half years of setting records for filibusters, blocking judicial nominees, stonewalling executive branch appointees and holding the debt ceiling hostage, Republicans are planning a lawsuit "to compel President Obama to follow his oath of office and faithfully execute the laws of our country." The culmination (or perhaps penultimate step) of an unprecedented campaign of obstruction that began the very night Barack Obama first took the oath of office, House Speaker John Boehner announced he "must sue" because "the president has consistently overstepped his authority under the Constitution."

If that's what House Republicans truly believe, then they must support the investigation and possible prosecution of President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and the architects of the detainee torture program they carried out in our name. After all, while Speaker Boehner doesn't yet know which laws the president isn't faithfully executing (or as he recently put it, "When I make that decision I'll let you know"), Bush and Cheney publicly boasted about ordering waterboarding and other so-called enhanced interrogation techniques clearly prohibited by U.S. and international law.

The contrast between Democratic restraint and the unquenchable Republican thirst for political revenge isn't just stark. It puts lie to the preposterous notion that "both sides do it." As you'll recall, even after the revelations of the Bush administration's regime of illicit domestic surveillance by the NSA (a program over which the entire leadership team of the Bush Justice Department threatened to resign in 2004), then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi repeatedly declared "impeachment is off the table." And even before he was sworn in, President-elect Obama made it clear that the Bush torture team need not fear punishment from him:

"We need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards."
From a political and economic perspective, Obama's fear of looking into that rearview mirror was understandable. After all, the economy he inherited from President Bush was in freefall. In the last quarter of 2008, GDP collapsed by 8.9 percent; 2.2 million jobs evaporated in the first quarter of 2009 alone. With the economy requiring immediate action and his ambitious agenda for 2009, President Obama was afraid to risk a total political conflagration in Washington by launching the kind of investigation the Bush administration's possible war crimes demanded.

Please read below the fold to see why Americans must look backward on torture.

So, Obama signaled to Team Bush and its Republicans allies there would be no accountability for their high crimes and misdemeanors. And he did so by reducing war crimes to a talking point conservatives love most: "criminalizing politics." During his confirmation hearings on January 16, 2009, Attorney General nominee Eric Holder declared, "waterboarding is torture." But he also reassured Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee about something else:

"I think President-elect Obama has said it well. We don't want to criminalize policy differences that might exist between the outgoing administration and the administration that is about to take over. We certainly don't want to do that."
Ultimately, President Barack Obama never prosecuted anyone involved in the design and execution of President Bush's program of detainee torture. While the memos authorizing these potential war crimes have seen the light of day, those who ordered and perpetrated them did not. Attorney General Holder announced, "It would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the Justice Department." (Ultimately, none were, as Holder in August 2012 ended his last investigation into two detainee deaths. President Obama went further in seemingly backing away from any legal action against the Bush torture team:
"In releasing these memos, it is our intention to assure those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that they will not be subject to prosecution...

This is a time for reflection, not retribution. I respect the strong views and emotions that these issues evoke. We have been through a dark and painful chapter in our history. But at a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past."

But spending that time and energy was never about "laying blame for the past," but redeeming American values by holding its leaders to account for failing to uphold them. And that's not all. Obama had a responsibility to uphold the law, especially after Dick Cheney and George W. Bush proudly admitted they had not.

As the New York Times reported, in his 2010 memoir Decision Points, "Mr. Bush says he personally authorized the use of such techniques sometime after the capture of a suspected Al Qaeda operative, Abu Zubaydah, in March 2002." During an appearance before a business audience in Grand Rapids, Michigan, ex-President Bush revealed his endorsement of the use of waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation techniques against 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other terrorism suspects. As CNN reported in June 2010:

"Yeah, we waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed," the former president said during an appearance at the Economic Club of Grand Rapids, Michigan, according to the Grand Rapids Press.

"I'd do it again to save lives," he added.

Of course, on this as on most issues, Bush was only echoing his vice president. Back in February, Dick Cheney bragged to ABC's Jonathan Karl in almost the exact same terms:
"I was a big supporter of waterboarding. I was a big supporter of the enhanced interrogation techniques ..."
As Scott Horton concluded in Harper's after Cheney boast in 2010 that "I was a big supporter of waterboarding. I was a big supporter of the enhanced interrogation techniques":
"What prosecutor can look away when a perpetrator mocks the law itself and revels in his role in violating it? Such cases cry out for prosecution. Dick Cheney wants to be prosecuted. And prosecutors should give him what he wants."
Writing on February 15, 2010, Professor Jonathan Turley lamented that President Obama had turned his back on the law:
It is an astonishing public admission since waterboarding is not just illegal but a war crime. It is akin to the vice president saying that he supported bank robbery or murder-for-hire as a public policy.

The ability of Cheney to openly brag about his taste for torture is the direct result of President Barack Obama blocking any investigation or prosecution of war crimes. For political reasons, Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have refused to carry out our clear obligations under international law to prosecute for such waterboarding. Indeed, before taking office, various high-ranking officials stated that both Obama and Holder assured them that they would not allow such prosecutions. While they denied it at the time, those accounts are consistent with their actions following inauguration.

Professor Turley concluded that by turning a blind eye, the Obama administration had dumbed torture down. "Because it would have been politically unpopular to prosecute people for torture," Turley wrote, "the Obama Administration has allowed officials to downgrade torture from a war crime to a talking point."

And a Republican talking point at that. After all, what Eric Holder called criminalizing policy differences," is the standard defense Republican miscreants have used for decades to fight off scandals including Iran-Contra, the Valerie Plame affair, illicit domestic surveillance by the NSA and the Bush administration's prosecutors' purge. And when the Obama administration in April 2009 released those four torture memos authored by Bush attorneys Jay Bybee, Stephen Bradbury and John Yoo, Republicans in Congress and their amen corner in the media charged the new president was "criminalizing conservatism."

Powerline's John Hinderaker made that exact charge in a piece by the same title. "Many liberals don't just want to defeat conservatives at the polls, they want to send them to jail," he wrote, adding, "Toward that end, they have sometimes tried to criminalize what are essentially policy differences." In a scathing editorial on April 23, 2009, titled, "Presidential Poison," the Wall Street Journal went on the attack using the GOP's tried and untrue criminalizing politics canard:

Mark down the date. Tuesday, April 21, 2009, is the moment that any chance of a new era of bipartisan respect in Washington ended. By inviting the prosecution of Bush officials for their antiterror legal advice, President Obama has injected a poison into our politics that he and the country will live to regret...

Above all, the exercise will only embitter Republicans, including the moderates and national-security hawks Mr. Obama may need in the next four years. As patriotic officials who acted in good faith are indicted, smeared, impeached from judgeships or stripped of their academic tenure, the partisan anger and backlash will grow...

Mr. Obama is more popular than his policies, due in part to his personal charm and his seeming goodwill. By indulging his party's desire to criminalize policy advice, he has unleashed furies that will haunt his Presidency.

But over five years later, no "patriotic official" has been indicted, no judges have been impeached and no professor has been stripped of his academic tenure—not even the one who defined torture as "equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death. Just days ago, John Yoo was awarded an endowed faculty chair at the UC Berkeley School of Law. Bush appointee Jay Bybee remains on the federal bench. Cheney's legal alchemist David Addington is now creating alternative realities at the Heritage Center. Psychologist James Mitchell, one of the consultants who helped the Bush administration render the Geneva Conventions quaint, didn't lose his professional credentials, even after claiming, "I'm just a guy who got asked to do something for his country." Jose Rodriguez, who as head of the CIA's clandestine service personally ordered the destruction of dozens of interrogation videotapes, is a conservative hero who has smeared the soon-to-be released Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA torture program despite having never read a word of it. Meanwhile, Dick Cheney appears regularly on your television screen to accuse President Obama of treason. As for Cheney's former Oval Office sock puppet, George W. Bush is free to paint himself in the shower and giving speeches to "replenish the ol' coffers."

As for Barack Obama, Republicans reacted to his agreement to look backward at the Bush administration's regime of detainee torture by nevertheless unleashing "furies that will haunt his Presidency." Confirming Jon Stewart's 2009 assessment that the tea party and its GOP allies were "confusing tyranny with losing," Speaker of the House John Boehner explained in his CNN op-ed Sunday why his party is moving on to a step just short of impeachment despite President Obama's historically limited use of executive orders.

There must be accountability. We have a system of government outlined in our Constitution with the executive branch, the legislative branch, and the judicial branch. Congress has its job to do, and so does the President. When there are conflicts like this—between the legislative branch and the executive branch—it is my view that it is our responsibility to stand up for this institution in which we serve, and for the Constitution.
There must be accountability, all right. But the president who needs to be held accountable for actual crimes is George W. Bush. As for Barack Obama, apparently Republicans just want to criminalize policy differences.
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Comment Preferences

  •  Turning a blind eye to the law, (17+ / 0-)

    as Turley describes Obama's decision not to investigate or prosecute Bush-era executive decisions regarding torture, should not be called Democratic restraint, as the author put it.  

    It's not.  It's you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours.  And now we're supposed to be surprised and outraged that the Republicans don't feel an obligation to scratch back?

    And we can be quite sure that that's the conversation that took place back in 2009 when Holder was reigned in after his initial comments that he might be opening those cases.  Somebody told the President that any action to curb the authority of the executive branch to make "hard decisions" (i.e., torture our prisoners) would work to weaken the executive branch at a time when Obama was just becoming the new executive.  

    Better then to look forward, not backward.  Hey, we might want to torture people some day too!  Never say never.  Ticking time bombs, Godzilla eggs in the subways, widespread spontaneous human combustion -- you never know what's going to happen.

    And so we must live with and accept the legacy -- without any judicial review -- that says it's lawful for a president to crush a child's testicles in order to make a man talk, as Bush's attorney said.

    I support the Republican court challenge.  God bless 'em.  Their political motives are less relevant than the precedent they will set.

    •  Those other war criminals that were hanged (6+ / 0-)

      For following orders, must be rolling in their graves.
      I remember hearing that 'just following orders' doesn't let war criminals off the hook.
      I bet Holder know that too. I am sure a lot of the Nuremberg decisions were covered at his law school.
      Torture is still happening at Baghram and other sites under Obama.
      And Pelosi made me sick when she took impeachment off the table.
      The Dems ran on the platform of rolling back the Bush abuses.
      2 bait and switch campaigns in 2 years.
      I wonder what Hillary will promise us?  And will we believe her?  

      "Americans don't understand that terrorists cannot take away habeas corpus, the Bill of Rights, or the Constitution. Terrorists are not anything like the threat that we face from our own government in the name of fighting terrorism."

      by snoopydawg on Sun Jul 06, 2014 at 02:56:33 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  How can you support a "court challenge" (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      without knowing the charges? The Executive branch is responsible for all the agencies controlled by the cabinet. When they fail to do their jobs, the president is responsible. As their boss, he directs the agencies to take certain actions. He has indicated many times that each action is carefully scrutinized to assure no one steps beyond their scope. If that isn't the case, why do we need a president?

      As much as the Repukes would like to impeach this president (for whatever), they blew their chance when they impeached Bill Clinton. If they knew in 1998 that a decade later we would have an African-American president, they most likely wouldn't have shot their wad on Clinton. But when a country has used impeachment as little as we have, impeaching two successive Democratic presidents won't fly. So they're stuck. And that damn president has such a clean nose.

      •  Why do we need a president... (3+ / 0-)
        He has indicated many times that each action is carefully scrutinized to assure no one steps beyond their scope. If that isn't the case, why do we need a president?
        Better question is, why do we need checks and balances?  The executive branch can do anything, then, including torture -- TORTURE -- and it's not subject to any kind of review outside the executive branch because... "What else is the president for?"

        Bush and Cheney proved why that isn't an adequate question/answer.  A democracy has to be stronger than that.  If it isn't... well, we're just another torturing police state.

  •  Slippery slope (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sunbro, ExpatGirl, jasan

    Were basic human rights violated at the behest and direction of former Pres. W. Bush and V.P. Cheney?  Yes, indubitably.

    Here might be why the Obama Administration has been so recalcitrant about pursuing an in-depth look into the wrong-doings and illegal activities pursued by the previous president's administration:

    The Republican party members in control of the House of Representatives and those justices appointed by Bush I have already shown a complete disregard for the rule of law and rational thought processes.  They would retaliate in even more juvenile and sophomoric actions if the Obama Administration were to ask for inquiries into the potentially prosecutable offenses committed by W and his administration.  You think things are bad now?  Imagine if the Supremes had to hear the appeal about whatever messed up doctrine the W Administration thought up and used.  How do you think they would find?  Of course they would pardon W's poor behavior.  Of course they would justify in legal terms, but not legal foundation, the reasons for W's misbehavior (most likely due to a chronic infection of affluenza) and then the Rs in Congress would get to pontificate to their hearts' content about the "justness" and "fairness" of those decisions.

    Have you forgotten what the Rs did to Pres. Clinton?  They invaded his privacy and impeached him for . . . what, again?  I was living abroad during the majority of that scandal and the French people I spoke with about it would always ask, "Why is your Congress so obsessed with your president's personal life?  Our President Mitterrand kept a woman on the taxpayers' dime for 25 years!  We kept out of his life and he governed us well!"  I always had to remind these French types that the US was founded and still holds tenaciously to Puritanical ideals.  They would consider this for a moment and shrug that famous French shrug.  I like the French for this candor.  I appreciate the French for holding true to their ideals and their willingness to discuss and think about and express ideas.  I think it is a shame they are turning their political field into a parody of our own.

    Back on track, though:  So, yeah, I can see the long-game here.  While it would be gratifying to have W's administration on trial for high crimes and misdemeanors, in this political climate, with the representatives we have in Congress and those that are sitting on our Supreme Court bench, it would be . . . less than logical to pursue such matters at this time.

  •  I agree totally and, though I don't watch (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    NancyWH, lotlizard

    television, I have been assured by someone who does that the issue is being dicussed and percolating through the popular ether.
    One thing to consider is that our system of justice operates in response to complaints. Somebody has to lodge a complaint on the victims' behalf, since they are not capable of doing it themselves.
    And, I suspect, it has to be a criminal complaint, not a civil case, although the burden of proof in civil cases is lower.
    The people who carried out orders vetted by lawyers are not at fault. It's the people who gave the orders and twisted the arms of the lawyers that need to be, like a Mafia don, called to account.
    And it's not just Guantanamo that's at issue. There are also the "black" sites and the detention camps in Iraq. The Pentagon, it is rumored, kept detailed media records of interrogations and somebody needs to make public records requests. Now that the troops are effectively home, the President can't use protecting them from retaliation as an excuse.

    by hannah on Sun Jul 06, 2014 at 02:05:18 PM PDT

  •  Dems took different approach to Watergate (15+ / 0-)

    Cox, Ervin, Rodino, et al didn't look forwards, not backwards. Since Nixon's crimes appear to have preceded his election, I'll retain eternally grateful that they did so.  

    Letting criminals off the hook doesn't lead to future cooperation.  It merely leads to criminals becoming even more brazen.  Anyone ever hear of Iran-contra?  Playing nice then and in the theft of the 2000 election and in passing the IWR only emboldened GOP.

    I won't even get into the "October Surprise" shenanigans in 1980 or the electoral oddities in OH in 2004.  Seeing a presidential election stolen in broad daylight in my home state in 2000 was a searing experience that should've similarly resonated w/ others.

    Some men see things as they are and ask why. I dream of things that never were and ask why not?

    by RFK Lives on Sun Jul 06, 2014 at 02:06:41 PM PDT

  •  Outstanding diary. (6+ / 0-)

    The audacity of Republicans with this latest stunt is astounding, especially given the history of the previous administration and Republicans' deliberate obstructionism in the current one.

    How do we put pressure on Congressional Republicans to hold the real criminals' feet to the fire?

    The disappearance of a sense of responsibility is the most far-reaching consequence of submission to authority. - Stanley Milgram

    by penelope pnortney on Sun Jul 06, 2014 at 02:10:13 PM PDT

  •  except... (4+ / 0-)

    After all, the economy he inherited from President Bush was in freefall

    Pres. Obama would have looked forward and not pursued accountability no matter what the economy, or anything else for that matter.

    I don't know what's worse, the getting older or the getting wiser. -- G. Callen.

    by OLinda on Sun Jul 06, 2014 at 02:26:19 PM PDT

  •  Take a look at this article. (6+ / 0-)
    President-Elect Obama’s advisors feared in 2008 that authorities would revolt and that Republicans would block his policy agenda if he prosecuted Bush-era war crimes, according to a law school dean who served as one of Obama’s top transition advisers.
    University of California at Berkeley Law School Dean Christopher Edley, Jr., left, the sixth highest-ranking member of the 2008 post-election transition team preparing Obama's administration, revealed the team's thinking on Sept. 2 in moderating a forum on 9/11 held by his law school (also known as Boalt Hall). Edley sought to justify Obama's "look forward" policy on Bush-era lawbreaking that the president-elect announced on a TV talk show in January 2009.

    But Edley's rationale implies that Obama and his team fear the military/national security forces that he is supposed be commanding. It suggests also that Republicans have intimidated him right from the start of his presidency even though voters in 2008 rejected Republicans by the largest combined presidential-congressional mandate in recent U.S. history. Edley responded to our request for additional information by providing a description of the transition team's fears, which we present below as an exclusive email interview. Among his important points is that transition officials, not Obama, agreed that he faced the possibility of a "revolt."

    Read more at this link.

    "Americans don't understand that terrorists cannot take away habeas corpus, the Bill of Rights, or the Constitution. Terrorists are not anything like the threat that we face from our own government in the name of fighting terrorism."

    by snoopydawg on Sun Jul 06, 2014 at 02:32:26 PM PDT

    •  If that's true then we in the US don't really have (3+ / 0-)

      … a functioning democracy, do we?

      But Edley's rationale implies that Obama and his team fear the military/national security forces that he is supposed be commanding. It suggests also that Republicans have intimidated him right from the start of his presidency even though voters in 2008 rejected Republicans by the largest combined presidential-congressional mandate in recent U.S. history.
      But we knew about our democracy not functioning already — among others, a Democratic former president has told us it isn't.

      The Dutch kids' chorus Kinderen voor Kinderen wishes all the world's children freedom from hunger, ignorance, and war. ♥ ♥ ♥ Forget Neo — The One is Minori Urakawa

      by lotlizard on Sun Jul 06, 2014 at 03:34:40 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I agree (2+ / 0-)

        I think there was a coup in this country in 1963.
        When Eisenhower gave his warning, they were already entrenched.

        "Americans don't understand that terrorists cannot take away habeas corpus, the Bill of Rights, or the Constitution. Terrorists are not anything like the threat that we face from our own government in the name of fighting terrorism."

        by snoopydawg on Sun Jul 06, 2014 at 03:50:17 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Here's the dilemma--Democrats can't do it on (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    NancyWH, niemann

    their own.

    Because no matter how criminal Bush was, the second a Republican gets into power you will see Democrats being thrown in jail for absolutely nothing.

    Republicans will so politicize and cheapen actual going after criminal activity by politicians that no other administration would be able to go after them.

    So Democrats need either the country to howl so loud that Republicans cannot pretend to ignore it, or they need Republicans to actually LEAD on it.

    "You can't fix stupid" --Ron White -6.00, -5.18

    by zenbassoon on Sun Jul 06, 2014 at 03:03:46 PM PDT

  •  So, what (6+ / 0-)

    if my policy is to rob a bank? There's no need to criminalize it right?

    "I think President-elect Obama has said it well. We don't want to criminalize policy differences that might exist between the outgoing administration and the administration that is about to take over. We certainly don't want to do that."
    The fuckers broke the LAW. Hold them accountable just like any non-mega rich person that breaks the LAW.

    6% of scientists are republican. Scientists have no explanation why that number is so high.

    by fugwb on Sun Jul 06, 2014 at 03:03:52 PM PDT

  •  Obama should put out the word: (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    NancyWH, niemann, G2geek

    You sue me, I get the AG to investigate and prosecute those who lied to the American People about Iraq; those who allowed and encouraged torture; et al.

    He would allow the world court to try Bush/Cheney for what they did, to show the world that the US believes in the rule of law and that what applies to a dictatorship applies to a oligarchy (sorry democracy).

    I reject your reality and substitute my own - Adam Savage

    by woolibaar on Sun Jul 06, 2014 at 03:05:11 PM PDT

    •  go after McConnell for criminal sedition... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      nuclear winter solstice

      ... for his widely-reported statement early in the Obama administration, that his goal in the Senate was to make this a failed Presidency.  Speaking of failure to do his own damn job.  

      IF the statute of limitations has expired on that as a criminal matter, then sue him for a general tort as a civil matter.

      Bottom line is, what these people want is Civil War II.

      See also:

      by Frederick Clarkson, whose diary based on that article was rec-listed a day or two ago.

      We got the future back. Uh-oh.

      by G2geek on Sun Jul 06, 2014 at 03:49:22 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  The UN Torture Convention did not allow (4+ / 0-)

    a free pass if you call torture "enhanced interrogation" Reagan signed that treaty in 1986 and celebrated the end of torture which is only good for compliance anyway. It is well known that torture falls into the realm of the lazy, the stupid and the pseudo tough. There is no statute of limitation on the war crime of torture. Both Bush and Cheney have published books telling how proud they were of their torture program. How hard could it be to convict them based on that alone. The definition for war crime in the UN Convention is, "Anyone participating in or complicit to torture is a war criminal." Under the UN law the only safe places for Bush and Cheney to visit are Israel and Saudi Arabia, they could be arrested anywhere else.

    Never promote men who seek after a state-established religion; it is spiritual tyranny--the worst of despotism. It is turnpiking the way to heaven by human law, in order to establish ministerial gates to collect toll. John Leland

    by J Edward on Sun Jul 06, 2014 at 03:09:04 PM PDT

  •  the United States government (0+ / 0-)

    will be charged with war crimes against the Iraqi people. The US government knew what was happening as it was happening. Over a million dead Iraqi's, their families, all those tortured and abused, and the destruction of a country is the crime. A country the size of California.
    I can't see the US government allowing evidence of war crimes to be revealed in court. National Security/Top Secret/uber-classified...etc; but I do think there will be an avenue by which the Iraqi people will get empires fall.

  •  I thought that when Cheney crawled out from (0+ / 0-)

    under his bunker, that it was time for the Dems to start talking about impeachment  - when they get a majority back. There are no rules that prohibit impeachment of former vice-presidents or government officials.

    Politifact, the lie of the year is. - Yoda

    by gakke on Sun Jul 06, 2014 at 04:04:58 PM PDT

  •  I've said it a million times . . . (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jbsoul, Heart of the Rockies

    If you let the bad guys off, it sends them a clear message that they can become perennial repeat offenders and get away with it.

    Corruption is NOT ok with me.  Prison is the only way to break the cycle.

    We need to invade the Cheney compound. It's ok. They'll greet us as liberators.

    by thenekkidtruth on Sun Jul 06, 2014 at 04:49:43 PM PDT

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