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