This administration did more than commit crimes. It waged war against the law itself. It transformed the Justice Department into a vehicle for voter suppression, and it also summarily dismissed the U.S. attorneys who attempted to investigate its wrongdoing. It issued wartime contracts to substandard vendors with inside connections, and it also defunded efforts to police their performance. It spied on church groups and political protesters, and it also introduced a sweeping surveillance program that was so clearly illegal that virtually the entire senior echelon of the Justice Department threatened to (but did not in fact) tender their resignations over it. It waged an illegal and disastrous war, and it did so by falsely representing to Congress and to the American public nearly every piece of intelligence it had on Iraq. And through it all, as if to underscore its contempt for any authority but its own, the administration issued more than a hundred carefully crafted "signing statements" that raised pervasive doubt about whether the president would even accede to bills that he himself had signed into law.
So Compound F (blogger at Docudharma who provided this summary) says we then face the harder issue of how to prosecute this disaster? How can we hold these criminals accountable to such a pervasive and insidious swath of crime?
What are we going to do? Prosecute our entire political class on all of the myriad crimes they have collectively committed? Obama is going to have his hands full just with the issue of Bush signing statements, not to mention achieving bi-partisan consensus on the ongoing crises of the economy, environment, and failed wars.
Horton gets pragmatic: Bust the Big Fish on Torture.
There can be no doubt that torture is illegal. There is no wartime exception for torture, nor is there an exception for prisoners or "enemy combatants," nor is there an exception for "enhanced" methods. The authors of the Constitution forbade "cruel and unusual punishment," the details of that prohibition were made explicit in the Geneva Conventions ("No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on of any kind whatever"), and that definition has in turn become subject to U.S. enforcement through the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the U.S. Criminal Code, and several acts of Congress. Nor can there be any doubt that this administration conspired to commit torture: Waterboarding. Hypothermia. Psychotropic drugs. Sexual humiliation. Secretly transporting prisoners to other countries that use even more brutal techniques. The administration has carefully documented these actions and, in many cases, proudly
proclaimed them. The written guidelines for interrogations at Guantánamo Bay, for instance, describe several techniques for degrading and physically debilitating prisoners, including the "forceful removal of detainees' clothing" and the use of "stress positions." And in a 2006 radio interview, Dick Cheney said simply that the use of waterboarding to obtain intelligence was a "no-brainer."2
And since banning torture is something President-elect Obama promised to do on 60 minutes as well as other occasions, our next step is prosecuting the jerks.
Horton also recounts how the administration was aware of the potential criminality early on in the process as they wrote various memos attempting to redefine torture (enhanced interrogation) and prisoner of war status (enemy combatants), and the very meaning of war (war on terror is non-conventional, making the Geneva Conventions "quaint"). Thus, there is evidence of "guilty minds," and guilty intentions. Cheney, Powell, Rice, Rumsfeld, Tenet, and Ashcroft met early on (2002) to discuss specific methods, when Ashcroft famously asked:
"Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly."
He also recounts a conversation with Jane Mayer (author of Journey to the Dark Side) in which she quotes a CIA officer on the topic, who said:
"Laws? Like who the fuck cares?"
Which are the very things the President & Co. are sworn to uphold.
Law and order are wonderful, fragile things. Even should Obama simply end torture and shut GITMO, the knowledge and acceptance that our leaders can and have gotten away with torturing humans will not cease being a crisis of law and order.
Which makes Horton's conclusion less than satisfying. Among many possible venues for prosecution of these crimes, he believes the best is Commission of Inquiry ("Truth & Reconciliation"), something on the order of the Warren Commission, where we would try to get to the truth in exchange for immunity.
I think his prescription for Nuremberg-like trials is more appropriate in this case. We desperately need both accountability, and a deterrent for future governments.