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.