A beginning - and a new round of hysteria surely coming fast
David Dayen (dday) has a post at Hullabaloo in Special Prosecutor 08/24/09 about Attorney General Eric Holder's announcement today to look at prosecutions of torture perpetrators. Although Holder bent over backward to present it as an extremely limited inquiry, this could also be an extremely important step.
Because the torture issue isn't going away. And as David points out:
However, just the possibility of prosecuting individuals who did, after all, break the law, is enough for establishmentarians like Leon Panetta to reportedly threaten resignation. And the Durham investigation, in the end, is up to John Durham. He can be given a mandate, but Eric Holder has said in the past that he cannot circumscribe an investigation so much as to effectively immunize certain individuals. If the small fish flip, Durham, like any prosecutor, can find out who authorized their actions. And that can lead to the Bush White House. [my emphasis]
Panetta is the first Obama official who, based on his record under this administration, that I think really should resign or be fired. To publicly announce that his first priority as CIA Director is to shield torture perpetrators from prosecution is a disgrace. I still can hardly believe he put that into print over his signature. (Note to literalists: That is the plain meaning of his letter that I quoted in the previous post even though he didn't use my phrase "shield torture perpetrators".)
I don't want to be over-optimistic here. With the kind of delays and stonewalling we've seen from the Obama administration on torture prosecutions, it won't surprise me at this point if that plan some maneuver to just make the issue disappear. But the good news is that the torture issue won't disappear because it's too serious, its practical consequences are so far-reaching, and it's a body-blow to Constitutional government. So beginning a process in which criminal torture will officially be treated as criminal torture could, as David indicates, wind up going much farther just in the nature of the thing. And he's spot-on when he writes:
And realize, of course, that even this hedged, incomplete investigation is likely to launch the shitstorm to end all shitstorms from the Village.
Although the one that hits when Congress takes up comprehensive immigration reform could top it. But the torture investigation has the potential to put on the public record in court-vetted evidence the extent to which the Cheney-Bush administration operated on a genuinely illegal basis. Their conduct in office far exceeds the crimes committed in what has gone into history as "Watergate".
The Republicans play these political matches harder than the Democrats do. And the Obama administration can't seem to shake itself out of the sad illusion that the Republican Party is going to cooperate with them to promote the good of the country. Holder and Obama have set this up to argue "hey, this is nothing to get upset about, it's a routine and very limited investigation". And that may well be what Obama and Holder intend it to be.
But the Republicans will not take it that way. We've already seen the Cheney clan doing a public campaign in defense of torture earlier this year. Cheney and the rest of the Republicans, including that great Maverick and rock of integrity John McCain, know that a serious torture prosecution could very well put on display just what an authoritarian and even fanatical organization today's Republican Party has become. They will almost certainly go full-bore in defending torture and accusing Obama of being 29 kinds of awful for opening this investigation.
Obama and Holder may be trying to kick the can down the road. But the Republicans want to crush the can and bury it deep right now. So torture opponents are going to have to fight a great deal of the political fight long before the Justice Department completes its preliminary inquiry.
Here's what the Villagers were hoping would happen, if the issue didn't just fade away: some kind of bipartisan whitewash commission. Here was "liberal" McCain idolator Mark Shield on the PBS Newshour of 04/24/09:
JIM LEHRER: How can you -- to David's point -- how can you have a commission and not do what David is saying or not re-fight the whole thing?
MARK SHIELDS: We had one. We had one with Lee Hamilton and Jim Baker. I mean, there -- that divided the country.
JIM LEHRER: So you think it can be done?
MARK SHIELDS: Sure, it can be done.
JIM LEHRER: You can get people together...
MARK SHIELDS: You get good people, bipartisan people, people who put country ahead of party, and there are such individuals across this nation of ours, sure, it can be done, absolutely.
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I'm for a truth commission, have been. And I think Nancy Pelosi has been, as well, maybe, you know, that was before all this. But I think it's her only hope for redemption.
But the question is now, does it go before the Senate Intelligence Committee, where it's going to be quite partisan back and forth on this now, or do you try and do a Lee Hamilton, Jim Baker, kind of insulate it with statesmen presiding?
JIM LEHRER: But you think it's important enough that it should be done, that it should be cleared up once and for all?
MARK SHIELDS: I do.
JIM LEHRER: Do you?
DAVID BROOKS: I do. Many people in this town with more powerful positions just want it to go away.
MARK SHIELDS: That's right.
DAVID BROOKS: And that's what Harry Reid was saying a couple weeks ago. And that may still happen.
MARK SHIELDS: And the administration, too, this one. [my emphasis]
Shields got the right description of what a coverup commission would be like, though it's very clear that's what he would prefer: "kind of insulate it with statesmen presiding".
But the torture crimes need to be treated as the crimes they were.