November 26, 2008

Rachel Maddow had Jonathan Turley on yesterday to discuss the Wall Street Journal story reporting that the Bush administration had no intention of issuing pardons for the people involved in its torture operations because they don't think it's necessary.

And what Turley observed should be alarming to anyone concerned about whether or not Democrats are going to have the spine to return the U.S. to the rule of law -- by, among other things, holding torturers and the people who enabled them accountable:

Maddow: So the White House says now, at least to the Wall Street Journal, that they are not likely to pardon anyone who might have implemented or taken part in these torture policies because they believe that their Justice Department memos excuse them, so there's no need to pardon anyone. Are you buying that reasoning?

Turley: No. I don't believe that anyone seriously believes in the administration that what they did is legal. This is not a close legal question. Waterboarding is torture. It has been defined as a crime by U.S. courts and by foreign courts. There's no ambiguity in it. That is exactly why they have repeatedly acted to stop any court from reviewing any of this.

And so what's really happening here is a rather clever move at this intersection of law and politics. That what the administration is doing, is they know that the people that want him to pardon our torture program is primarily the Democrats, not the Republicans. The Democratic leadership would love to have a pardon so they could go to their supporters and say, "Look, there's really nothing we could do. We're just going to have this truth commission, and we'll get the truth out, but there really can't be any indictments now."

Well, the Bush administration is calling their bluff. They know that the Democratic leadership will not allow criminal investigations or indictments. And in that way the Democrats will actually repair Bush's legacy, because he will be able to say, "There was nothing stopping indictments or prosecutions, but a Democratic congress and a Democratic White House didn't think there was any basis for it."

There's been a certain amount of dismay expressed by progressives over the past week or so about Obama's emerging Cabinet and the lack of any real liberals within his administration so far; some of this is reasonable, some of it excessive.

But if Turley is right, and the Obama administration and congressional Democrats do what they've been doing all along -- going along to get along, and putting politics over principle -- when it comes to confronting the reality that torture was conducted under American auspices, then the resulting uproar and outrage will be fully deserved.

The campaign is already under way. In this morning's Washington Post, Jack Goldsmith -- who was up to his neck in the torture dealings, but who also made a principled stand against the policies -- launched the first effort to shoot down not just any prosecutions and indictments, even any "truth commission" at all.

So Democrats and Republicans will beat their teeth over it for a few weeks, agree to set up a toothless "truth commission," and let these war criminals walk slowly away.

It's going to be up to the public -- the ordinary citizens who want the black stain of torture removed the national fabric -- to remind their spineless representatives that torture is torture, war crimes are war crimes, and the rule of law requires those who flouted it to face the consequences -- go-along-get-along politics be damned.

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