Saturday, January 17, 2009

No Spoon Full of Sugar For This Medicine

Several days ago, I noted that a senior Bush official stated that in her opinion, The US had tortured. She believed this strongly enough that she couldn't recommend the prosecution of the so-called "20th hijacker." Eric Holder, the nominee for attorney-general, stated in his confirmation hearing that he believed waterboarding was torture, and he did so in no uncertain terms. The NYT has a piece about the terrible can of worms this opens.

Yet his statement, amounting to an admission that the United States may have
committed war crimes, opens the door to an unpredictable train of legal and
political consequences. It could potentially require a full-scale legal investigation, complicate prosecutions of individuals suspected of committing terrorism and mire the new administration in just the kind of backward look that Mr. Obama has said he would like to avoid.
No doubt this will be a mess. When a crime of this magnitude has been committed, no administration that wishes to be taken seriously can simply turn away and pretend they just didn't see. Yet, in trying to read between the lines, it seems this is exactly what Obama would like to do. This is not to be terribly critical of him: the reasons for doing so are obvious and compelling. Our economy is in the tank, sinking with concrete galoshes, and we don't know where the bottom of the tank is yet. The news on the climate change front seems to get scarier every day. Health care is increasingly out of reach of moderately well-off families, and a single emergency could bankrupt even an insured, well-off family. Conflicts major and minor burst in and out of our consciousness like fireflies, reported but never really covered by the TV news.

In short, Obama has a stove full of scorching kettles, and there's no cool back burner to move any of them to.

Dealing with a war crimes investigation would be the last thing I'd want to deal with, were I in his shoes.

And yet the smooth functioning of this country demands it. One of the core ideals of this country is that no man is above the law; we are all equal before the workings of justice. Our adherence to that ideal has slipped; each of us can recite innumerable anecdotes of this person escaping justice because his wealth and power allowed him to buy out the system. Of that person incarcerated, brutalized, even executed, because of skin color and poverty. And I don't want to minimize those travesties. But here we are talking about the supposed "leader of the free world," a man who refused to hear, let alone consider, criticisms and questions regarding his actions and decisions and those of his subordinates. If he is allowed to amble amiably off into his Texas sunset, we might as well just announce in the headlines of every newspaper, of every evening local newscast, "You live in a police state. Your leaders can do whatever they want, and you are powerless to stop them. Get used to it."

If Obama wants to be taken seriously by the world and the majority of this country, if he wants to maintain the core, the spirit, of what makes this country the magnificent achievement that it is, he really has no choice.


Demeur said...

This is a question I've brought up before. Can a president be convicted of crimes when he leaves office? I believe he tried to give himself immunity when he passed the last FISA bill.

Lockwood said...

I'm no expert, so I'll say at the outset that I'm speculating. But Ford would not have pardoned Nixon if there was no possible way for Nixon to be prosecuted. I think that impeachment only applies to sitting officials- that is, Bush will not be "impeachable" after noon Tuesday. But that does not put criminal prosecution out of reach. Many have been specualting that Bush will issue blanket pardons/immunity to himself and his crew. The question of self-pardon has been debated; I think the only way it will be settled is when someone tries it. My suspicion here is that Bush is so arrogant and self-satisfied that he will see no reason to do this. He's so confident that he and his henchmen have done no wrong that it will seem pointless to issue pardons for wrong doings that, in his mind, never happened. And even if he does, those will mean nothing to international law. In other words, if it is found that war crimes were committed, the Hague won't care about(and won't be limited by) the fact that Bush pardoned himself.

And I didn't make it real clear in the above piece: I'm not nearly so concerned with prosecution specifically. I want to know what happened. Krugman points out the possibility of a similar model to South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation hearings. IF it is determined that serious crimes were committed, then we can talk about where to go from there.

This really is a terribly tangled can of worms. I really want to see some committment from ALL of out leaders to start sorting the mess out and bringing some transparency back to government. As I state in the above post, I don't believe that the form of government we are so proud to have can survive this fiasco simply being swept under the rug, in order to commit to a "forward-looking" attitude.