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New York Times Editorial Calls for Investigation and Prosecution of Torturers in Bush Administration

The New York Times has never been that liberal monolith conservatives like to decry, but this morning, the editorial staff got it right – or mostly right – by calling for the investigation and prosecution of torturers in the Bush administration. This follows the American Civil Liberties Union’s call for a special prosecutor to investigate “a vast criminal conspiracy, under color of law, to commit torture and other serious crimes.”

The problem is, after calling out Obama for not prosecuting torturers himself, the Times stops short of pointing a finger at the man on whose watch all this happened: President George W. Bush: “as hard as it is to imagine Mr. Obama having the political courage to order a new investigation, it is harder to imagine a criminal probe of the actions of a former president.”

Many of us would beg to differ: as former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke said back in June, “Whether that would be productive or not, I think, is a discussion we could all have.”

Instead, the Times says,

But any credible investigation should include former Vice President Dick Cheney; Mr. Cheney’s chief of staff, Daid Addington; the former C.I.A. director George Tenet; and John Yoo and Jay Bybee, the Office of Legal Counsel lawyers who drafted what became known as the torture memos. There are many more names that could be considered, including Jose Rodriguez Jr., the C.I.A. official who ordered the destruction of the videotapes; the psychologists who devised the torture regimen; and the C.I.A. employees who carried out that regimen.

On the contrary, any investigation which left out President George W. Bush would lack all credibility.

It is true that President Obama declined to order an investigation when he took office, though we all knew that torture had taken place, saying “we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.” Many of us were dismayed. We understood what he was saying, but as the New York Times editorial points out, the two are not incompatible.

President Obama has at least consistently condemned torture during his six years in office, and said again with the release of the Senate report that, “I will continue to use my authority as President to make sure we never resort to those methods again.”

The problem is, it will not always be Obama’s watch. Some other, less scrupulous politician – and yes, I mean pretty much any Republican you care to mention – would eagerly embrace torture. The leaders of the Religious Right have made clear they love the idea of inflicting suffering in Jesus’ name, with Brian Fischer even going so far as to say last week that Jesus himself would support the use of torture.

Do any of us really believe that this could never happen again? The ACLU correctly states that, “A thorough and credible criminal investigation is a legal and moral imperative. And it is the best way to ensure that the United States never tortures again.”

The Times also fails to point to a certain, unrelenting logic to prosecution. After all, we executed Japanese solders after the Second World War for waterboarding American prisoners of war. How can we not at least investigate our own torturers?

As Paul Begala has pointed out, Sen. John McCain, on November 29, 2007, “Following World War II war crime trials were convened. The Japanese were tried and convicted and hung for war crimes committed against American POWs. Among those charges for which they were convicted was waterboarding.”

Politifact says McCain was right:

McCain is referencing the Tokyo Trials, officially known as the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. After World War II, an international coalition convened to prosecute Japanese soldiers charged with torture. At the top of the list of techniques was water-based interrogation, known variously then as ‘water cure,’ ‘water torture’ and ‘waterboarding,’ according to the charging documents. It simulates drowning.” Politifact went on to report, “A number of the Japanese soldiers convicted by American judges were hanged, while others received lengthy prison sentences or time in labor camps.

Dick Cheney, of course, says the report is “full of crap” but one would expect somebody to say that who has just had war crimes criminal complaint filed against him in Germany – a complaint which also includes CIA Director George Tenet and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

And we are all aware by now that Fox News says the report is a conspiracy, that the real culprit we ought to be investigating is Obamacare, when, in fact, the report is about a conspiracy. And Lindsey Graham has said the report is “politically motivated” when, in fact, the torture itself was politically motivated. As in, let’s torture people who don’t believe what we believe.

President Obama has repeatedly said that this is his watch. He has repeatedly taken responsibility for what takes place on his watch. Yet here we have a president, George W. Bush, who has completely evaded responsibility for what has taken place on his watch. His vice president, and others, have evaded responsibility as well, and it seems a miscarriage of justice to investigate the torturer without investigating those who devised the regiment and those who gave the orders. The person ultimately responsible for those orders is President George W. Bush.

And after all, as RMUse wrote here on December 10, there is plenty of reason to suspect President Bush of knowing full well what was going on, on his own watch:

if Bush was not aware of the CIA’s torture program until a CIA briefing in 2006, then why does the report say on page seven that, “At the direction of the White House, the secretaries of state and defense – both principals on the National Security Council – were not briefed on program specifics until September 2003. An internal CIA email from July 2003 noted that “… the WH [White House] is extremely concerned [Secretary] Powell would blow his stack if he were to be briefed on what’s been going on.”

The Times is right that investigating Bush is “difficult to imagine” but Republicans have had no difficulty at all in imagining all sorts of violent and illegal consequences for President Obama for no reason at all, other than being a black man or a Democrat – or both.

As the Times says, this is “not about payback” but “about ensuring that this never happens again and regaining the moral credibility to rebuke torture by other governments. Because of the Senate’s report, we now know the distance officials in the executive branch went to rationalize, and conceal, the crimes they wanted to commit.”

The Times is also correct in saying that “no amount of legal pretzel logic can justify the behavior detailed in the report.” Their conclusion is spot on: “The question is whether the nation will stand by and allow the perpetrators of torture to have perpetual immunity for their actions.”

The answer must be no. We will not stand by, because as John Adams reminds us, we are “a government of laws, and not of men.”

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