Sometimes it feels like torture. Everyday it feels as if there are new revelations. Everyday there is more speculation about why President Obama doesn’t come out and say he will or will not support prosecution of Bush administration officials. I have said before that I think he is waiting to see what Congress does and what the Justice Department finds in various investigations. I think he doesn’t want to be seen as too eager and too partisan. I understand why many are frustrated. After all, the Republicans brought impeachment procedings and had a multi-year investigation by a special prosecutor about what was essentially a personal crime by President Clinton. The whole thing sapped energy from things that Clinton could have been doing and I can understand that Obama wants to pass some of his real agenda first. I want to see criminal prosecutions in the courts, although Judge Jay Bybee is an exception who needs to be impeached.
John Nichols writing in the Nation says
And President Obama, who erred on the side of the transparency demanded by the American Civil Liberties Union in its long campaign to obtain the memos, gets points for ordering an end to the use of the torture techniques they outlined and for expressing at least a measure of openness to a “further accounting” and perhaps prosecution of wrongdoers. But Obama’s fretting about inquiries “getting so politicized” and suggesting a preference for shifting responsibility to a bipartisan independent commission are unsettling.As a former constitutional law lecturer, Obama should have a firmer grasp of the point of executive accountability. It is not merely to “lay blame,” as he suggests; it is to set boundaries on presidential behavior and to clarify where wrongdoing will be challenged. Presidents, even those who profess honorable intentions, do not get to write their own rules. Congress must set and enforce those boundaries. When Obama suggested that CIA personnel who acted on the legal advice of the Bush administration would not face “retribution,” Illinois’s Jan Schakowsky, chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence’s subcommittee on oversight and investigations, offered the only appropriate response. “I don’t want to compare this to Nazi Germany, but we’ve come to almost ridicule the notion that when horrific acts have been committed that people can use the excuse that, Well, I was just following orders,” explained Schakowsky, who has instructed aides to prepare for a torture inquiry. “There should be an open mind of what to do with information that we get from thorough investigations,” she added.
There must also be a proper framework for investigations. Gathering information for the purpose of creating a permanent record is only slightly superior to Obama’s banalities about wanting to “move forward.” Truth commissions that grant immunity to wrongdoers and bipartisan commissions that negotiate their way to redacted reports do not check and balance the executive branch any more than “warnings” punish speeding motorists.
Impeaching Bybee, as recommended by Nadler and Common Cause, would send the right signal. But it cannot be the only one. The House Judiciary Committee should examine all available avenues for achieving accountability–including the prospect of formal action against former officeholders, up to and including the sort of impeachments imagined by Mansfield and his compatriots in 1974. And Nadler and Feingold should use their subcommittees to begin outlining statutory constraints on the executive branch. The point, again, is not merely to address Bush/Cheney-era crimes but also to dial down the imperial presidency that has evolved under the unwatchful eye of successive Congresses.
“Congress…must be vigilant to the perils of the subversive notion that any public official, the president or a policeman, possesses a kind of inherent power to set the Constitution aside whenever he thinks the public interest or ‘national security’ warrants it. That notion is the essential postulate of tyranny,” California Congressman Don Edwards warned thirty-five years ago, when too many of his colleagues thought Nixon’s resignation had caged the beast of executive aggrandizement. That vigilance, too long delayed, is the essential duty of every member of Congress who swears an oath to support and defend the Constitution.
Here’s most recent example of the drip of revelations. It appears that former Secretary of State Condi Rice might also be implicated in a conspiracy. Keith Olbermann ran this tape of her trying to defend torture.
So I say the Congress should begin impeaching Jay Bybee and we should let the relevatiions continue. I’m not sure when enough will be enough to begin criminal proceedings but I’m sure Eric Holder will figure that out.