Is Obama Serious About Going After Bush Officials Involved in Torture?
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Evidently, there's talk of Bush issuing a blanket pardon to anyone involved in his torture regime before he leaves office and Salon is also reporting that there are some plans afoot in the Obama camp to initiate a broad congressional inquiry into the whole interrogation program, which would be even more amazing.
As to the pardons, there is precedent for a president to pardon whole categories of people -- Carter did it for draft resisters and George Washington did it for those involved in the Whiskey Rebellion. The article discusses some moral distinctions, but it seems clear to me that Bush could do this and there would be nothing anyone could do about it.
In terms of the possible investigations, the article says:
A common view among those involved with the talks is that any early effort to prosecute Bush administration officials would likely devolve quickly into ugly and fruitless partisan warfare. Second is that even if Obama decided he had the appetite for it, prosecutions in this arena are problematic at best: A series of memos from the Bush Justice Department approved the harsh tactics, and Congress changed the War Crimes Act in 2006, making prosecutions of individuals involved in interrogations more difficult.
Instead, a commission empowered by Congress would have the authority to compel witnesses to testify and even to grant immunity in exchange for information. Should a particularly ugly picture emerge, the option of prosecutions would still theoretically be on the table later, however unlikely.
In Obama's camp, there is a sense among some that such a commission would essentially mean letting Bush get away with crimes. "People have called for criminal investigations," one person familiar with the talks told me this summer as plans got under way. On Wednesday, a person participating in the talks confirmed that some people involved in the planning felt strongly that the commission would amount to "bullshit" and that Bush officials should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
But few think prosecutions are realistic, given the formidable legal hurdles and the huge policy problems competing for Obama's attention. Among them is the complicated task of closing down the military prison at GuantÃ¡namo Bay, which Obama advisors say is a priority. Some observers outside the Obama camp are also questioning how much Democrats really want exposed with regard to interrogation, since top Democrats in Congress were briefed in secret on some of the harshest tactics used by the CIA and appear to have done little, or perhaps nothing, to stop them.
A congressional commission would be great. But at the risk of sounding cynical, the odds of that happening are about as good as Sarah W. Palin becoming a Supreme Court justice. We're now heavily into let bayhgones be bayhgones mode and I'd be shocked if this congress would do it. (Besides, Joe Lieberman might hold his breath until he turns blue and they can't let that happen.)