Monday, April 20, 2009

Free Passes for War Criminals = FAIL

I think one of our goals here at Lefty's is to advocate for progressive policy and values, and not fall victim to the cult of personality and blind adherence to ideology that caused the G.O.P. to run like lemmings off a cliff in their support of their party's leadership over the last decade. This means that while many of us are thrilled that Barrack Obama is now our President, and many of us devoted hours on end volunteering with his campaign to make that happen, we need to be true to our values and not the man. If we don't put as much, or more, pressure on our new administration to govern with our progressive values in mind, then the administration will only feel the heat coming from the right when they try to water-down the administration's agenda.

In his inaugural address, President Obama declared, "the United States does not torture." He then proceeded to issue an executive order to close the Guantanamo prisons, close CIA "black sites," make the U.S. Army field manual the basis for how to handle interrogations, and issued all departments to stop relying on Bush-era legal opinions for how to run their departments. These were all incredibly important steps that made me proud to have voted for President Obama and to have volunteered to help get him elected. We shouldn't lose sight of the significance of this dramatic shift in policy. Almost instantly, the image of the United States began to heal itself from years of illegal and immoral governing on the part of the Bush administration. But where President Obama is failing in his leadership on this issue is in his refusal to prosecute those who knowingly broke the law and those who created the policies or drafted knowingly shady legal opinions to provide cover for those who would be ordered to commit torture.

The President has been consistent in his criticism of the previous administration's practices, and deserves credit for that, and for taking such bold action in the first days of his presidency to reverse those practices. But over the last few months, the President has danced around the question of whether or not his administration will prosecute anyone for these horrible crimes. This Sunday, the president's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, answered questions from George Stephanopoulos on This Week regarding this issue, and he made it pretty clear that the administration has no intentions of prosecuting anyone for the crimes that were committed over the last eight years.

This is beyond disappointing.
People in the previous administration committed numerous illegal acts, and the administration's philosophy of "looking forward" and not wanting to seek "retribution" is just cowardly politics. Does the Justice Department not have a responsibility to pursue JUSTICE? It isn't simply "retribution" to prosecute people in the previous administration who knowingly broke the law. It is the right thing to do, and has nothing to do with the fact that I think many people in the previous administration are complete douchebags. I can understand the administration not wanting to prosecute CIA officers who acted under the "legal advice" (read: complete bullshit made up by John Yoo) that they were acting according to U.S. law. The administration needs the intelligence community to trust them, and I understand the bureaucratic politics at work that would make prosecuting employees of the CIA difficult and maybe even counterproductive. But the civilians at the top of our government who were responsible for issuing orders to torture, did so knowing they were breaking U.S. and international law, which is why they went to such lengths to have "legal experts" at the Justice Department issue memos essentially making minced-meat out of the U.S. Constitution and the Geneva Conventions. And this is the legacy they left our country with:

Apparently these are the kinds of crimes that this administration thinks it is pointless to prosecute in the interest of "looking forward," and as not to appear to be seeking retribution against political enemies. Well, there's a reason we made the last crowd our political enemies... it was because they engaged in practices like this, that destroyed our moral reputation around the world.

I have a few traffic tickets back home that I really can't afford to pay. And in the interest of "looking forward," I wonder if this administration would be willing to erase those from my record for me? I promise that when I removed my truck from the place where I illegally parked, I didn't leave any pools of blood in my wake. I promise, I won't do it again, just let me off the hook this time! Pretty please!?! I really doubt that the administration would even think about taking this approach towards the administration of justice with small time traffic offenders such as myself, other petty criminals and especially not anyone accused of violent crimes... except, it seems, if those violent crimes involved beating the shit out of prisoners in futile searches for information, or just to pass the time by building their own leaning towers of Iraqis.

These crimes must be prosecuted. There is simply no excuse for giving a free pass to the people responsible for instituting the images you see above as official policy of the United States. President Obama was right to denounce torture, and to affirm its illegality once taking office. He was also correct in releasing many of the previous administration's memos which attempted to justify these practices, some of which describe the actions in detail. The New York Times compiled this collection of memos here so can access these memos yourself and read some of the smut that qualified for policy under the Bush administration. Failing to prosecute the architects of the Bush administration's torture policies sets a precedent that any future administration, Republican or Democrat, can come into office and basically disregard the law at will, without facing any threat of prosecution. Failing to prosecute Nixon and some of his associates led to a perception that you can get away with almost anything in politics. It meant that when Bush committed some of the same crimes (wiretapping, targeting journalists/political enemies) that hardly anyone saw prosecution or impeachment to be worthwhile or even legitimate. And look what that precedent resulted in. Eight years of an administration that used the Constitution when they ran out of toilet paper. If we allow these same people to get away with crimes as significant as torture, we are essentially eliminating anyone who serves in the executive branch from being in any way accountable to the rule of law.

For those of you who still believe (or would like to believe) that we are a nation of laws, not men, and would like to contact the administration and urge them to act responsibly on this issue, I urge you to do so: You can email the White House here, or call their comment line at (202) 456-1111 or contact the switchboard at (202) 456-2461.

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