5/01/2009

Why President Obama Should Not Prosecute for Torture

So the sins of the 9/11 era are confessed. Our country not only condoned but actually engaged in the torture of human beings. After nearly a decade of hand wringing, legal maneuvering and linguistic obfuscation we've finally come to call it what it is.

Obama, by a stroke of political savvy that no one seems able to comprehend, is going to let the perpetrators walk and quite a few of my ideological brethren are up in arms. So there's no confusion, I'm going to put this plainly. Letting the senior members of the Bush administration who ordered and condoned torture go unpunished is the right thing to do for the country.

I am not apologizing for them. I am not endorsing them. Every person involved from the CIA agent with the wet towel to Donald Rumsfeld to Alberto Gonzalez to George W. Bush, himself, are reprehensible human beings who perpetrated unforgivable acts. In a perfect world, in a world where what is right and what is wrong trump all other concerns, they would all spend the rest of their lives in prison.

We don't live in that world.

The Presidency of the United States, by it's very nature, is a touchy job. Beyond the tribulations of any head of state, outside the vagaries of the election cycle, irrespective of party politics, the President must walk a very fine line. The powers of the executive are so broad sweeping, so poorly defined and so often called upon that a legally flawless presidency is functionally impossible.

Any administration in living memory, when closely scrutinized, will prove to have committed acts that are impeachable or prosecutable under some valid interpretation of the law. More simply, we can send any former president, any former cabinet member to jail if we look hard enough for a reason. I freely grant that, in the case of the last president, we don't need to look very hard but that's not the point.

We musn't set the precedent that an incoming executive be expected to prosecute the misdeeds of the one before lest that become the very business of the office, lest every change of party become a five year legal fiasco that wastes hundreds of millions of dollars and does little but distract the country from the business of nation-hood. Doing so would paralyze the office, forcing each president to consider billion-dollar, life & death decisions against the machinations of an army of partisan attorneys just waiting to pounce the last week of every fourth January. Such a precedent could bring the executive branch to a standstill.

It hurts a bit to come to this conclusion. I want these people to go to jail. I want them to pay for robbing my country of its dignity. I want them to be punished for harming their fellow humans. The more practical part of me knows that, sometimes, the the system by which we order justice is more important than a particular instance of it's application. That part of me knows that, at least on this occasion, the most moral choice is not for the greater good.




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5 comments:

peony said...

Definite food for thought. You know me...I firmly believe George W. Bush should be proscecuted for murder..for the murder of Americans by sending them to die based on a lie, on something he obviously knew at the time was a lie. That would be the most moral thing to do to honor our fallen soldiers and their families. But I agree that the business of nationhood, and of regaining the basic moral center and leadership position this country has claimed for generations, will better serve our country and ultimately, the safety, of America.

nursemyra said...

To forgive is divine?

Hey, maybe instead of serving a sentence they could be made to pay some retribution out of their own pocket.....

QuantumSpirit said...

I'm sorry. This sounds like Nixon saying if the president does it, it's not illegal!

The head of a family sets the tone for the rest of the family. It's true in a classroom, a corporation, and yes, even a country. When we ignore the crimes of our leaders, as we've done throughout our history, we end up with George W. Bush and his cronies.

Unfortunately we don't hold our politicians accountable for their actions. Why not? We're the ones footing the bill with our hard-earned money and our lives or the lives of our children.

The moral tone of this country is set by our President. No wonder so many countries hate us. We have amoral presidents.

I say prosecute and send a message to future generations of politicians that we will hold them accountable for their actions and inactions. We have to stop this now!

Tom Harper said...

I'm of two minds about what Obama should do about this. I'm glad he's released those memos detailing what was done in our name under Bush. We need to come clean about it.

Prosecuting the perps could be seen as a deterrent, or as just "wallowing in the past" instead of moving forward. And not prosecuting could show that government VIPs are above the law.

It's a dilemma.

waldo said...

"Letting the senior members of the Bush administration who ordered and condoned torture go unpunished is the right thing to do for the country. "

I cannot disagree more strongly.

"Freedom from torture is an inalienable human right. The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment, ratified by the United States and more than 130 other countries since 1984, forbids governments from deliberately inflicting severe physical or mental pain or suffering on those within their custody or control. Yet torture continues to be practiced around the world by rogue regimes whose cruel methods match their determination to crush the human spirit. Beating, burning, rape, and electric shock [and murder-Ed.] are some of the grisly tools such regimes use to terrorize... citizens. These despicable crimes cannot be tolerated by a world committed to justice." G W Bush, June 26, 2003.

Amnesty International USA vehemently condemned President Obama and accused him of "backtrack[ing] on a major campaign promise to change the way the United States fights terrorism and undermin[ing] the nation's core respect for the rule of law by sacrificing due process for political expediency." They ask: "What happened to President Obama's confidence in the U.S. justice system's ability to try detainees? He himself said that 'we need not throw away 200 years of American jurisprudence while we fight terrorism.'"

GH Bush and his cronies got away with the criminal activities of Iran/contra. If they had been prosecuted would Bush jnr. been elected, let alone go on to committing his foul war-crimes?

You're reinforcing the perception purveyed by your political elites who really do believe that "law" is only for the dirty, filthy masses -- but not for them.

"No man is above the law and no man is below it; nor do we ask any man's permission when we require him to obey it. Obedience to the law is demanded as a right; not asked as a favor." T. Roosevelt