Monday, April 27, 2009

Gagging the Founders

Torture is an issue that simply won't go away. I've been reading a spate of articles lately about this. I won't call it a "debate." It simply mischaracterizes the discussion to call this a "debate," as if there were a pro and con position on the question of whether to prosecute the perpetrators of these horrors, each equally defensible by the side that employs the most skillful rhetoric. No. Not given the plain facts which are not in dispute, and which the entire world knows. The fact is the US military and CIA engaged in systematic torture of prisoners, torture that was "legally" sanctioned by a Justice Department and Office of White House Counsel abjectly subservient to the executive branch: the evil twins Bush and Cheney. But make no mistake, the rest of the top dogs: Condi Rice, Rumsfeld, Tennant, Powell, Ashcroft . . . every last one of them endorsed the policy.

The basic point doesn't have have to be belabored: torture is a crime. The US executed Japanese and Nazis for torture. The people who engaged in torture, who constructed legal justifications for it, and who instituted torture as policy . . . all of them are criminals. They broke the law. But this country has so forfeited its moral compass that a huge outcry has arisen against enforcing the law against these criminals, bringing them to trial, and exacting justice. The country needs to "move on," goes the refrain--and sadly it originated with Obama himself. (I suspect that Obama is so desperate for the biggest consensus he can get on his health care and energy initiatives, he's momentarily taken leave of his senses. As if letting the Bush criminality off the hook could possibly buy support from these people who have opposed everything, EVERYTHING, he's proposed right up till the present moment.) Read Glenn Greenwald here on the exalted David Broder of the Washington Post, probably the number one establishment pundit in the country. The gist of it is that Broder is now characterizing the Bush administration as "the darkest chapter in American history," but in the midst of things, when it mattered, he did not make a peep.
Like so many of his colleagues, Broder played a critical role in defending these crimes and insisting that they were not taking place.This is a crucial and oft-overlooked fact in the debate over whether we should investigate and prosecute Bush crimes. The very same pundits and establishment journalists who today are demanding that we forget all about it, not look back, not hold anyone accountable, are the very same people who -- like Broder -- played key roles in hiding, enabling and defending these crimes.
Read Paul Krugman, who recalls how all the "sensible" people, the same corporate pundits Greenwald is referring to, assisted Bush in getting his war in Iraq back in 2002 by either backing the whole sordid enterprise and/or not raising a single question during the whole spinup to the war, although hundreds begged to be asked.
I’ll never trust “sensible” opinion again. But for those who stayed “sensible” through the test, it’s a moment they’d like to see forgotten. That, I believe, is the real reason so many want to let torture and everything else go down the memory hole.
Of course, Krugman's got a major problem with whole sorry attempt to sweep the torture question under the rug, too:
For the fact is that officials in the Bush administration instituted torture as a policy, misled the nation into a war they wanted to fight and, probably, tortured people in the attempt to extract “confessions” that would justify that war. And during the march to war, most of the political and media establishment looked the other way.

It’s hard, then, not to be cynical when some of the people who should have spoken out against what was happening, but didn’t, now declare that we should forget the whole era — for the sake of the country, of course.

Sorry, but what we really should do for the sake of the country is have investigations both of torture and of the march to war. These investigations should, where appropriate, be followed by prosecutions — not out of vindictiveness, but because this is a nation of laws.

Read Greenwald again today, who destroys the incredible argument being advanced by Broder and virtually all the rest of the media elite that "presidents and vice presidents are not always above the law." Can you believe this? We have a vast number of media pundits willing to give crimes committed by a president or vice president a pass on because they are not always above the law--just some of time, we surmise. Can you really believe that American opinion shapers are saying this, that they can actually believe it? It gets worse: Jon Meacham, the editor of Newsweek, says it "would set a terrible precedent," if a former president is prosecuted for his crimes in this particular case. You really have to read this piece to believe it. Here's just a taste:

The idea that our only options are to move on completely or to prosecute is a classic false choice. A third way would be a 9/11-style bipartisan commission that would include clear supporters of the Bush administration. Such a panel would meet largely in private, have the power to grant immunity to witnesses and be charged with answering, as clearly as possible, the central question of whether Bush's war on terror in its entirety saved lives.

So the central question is whether the so-called war on terror "in it's entirety saved lives"? Which means, of course, that the answer will be yes, and the corrollary will be that whatever was done--torture, illegal wiretapping, rendition, and all the rest--are OK because they are part of the "entirety" and "saved lives"! The Founders, brothers and sisters, are spinning in their graves. The rule of law in the Republic they founded was absolute. It's nothing but a trifle now--it doesn't count for anybody powerful enough to have the pundits kissing their asses. Don't kid yourself: that's the function of media today. Lick the boots of the powerful and construct arguments for their benefit that would gag a John Adams or Thomas Jefferson, a James Madison or Ben Franklin.

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