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What if Instead of the Nuremberg Trials There Was Only a Truth Commission?

The lawyers who fought for the release of the torture memo explain why prosecutions, not a truth commission, are the only right thing.
 
 
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Representatives John Conyers and Jerrold Nadler are officially asking Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint an independent Special Prosecutor to investigate the Bush-era US torture system. But, as Politico reports, “Holder is likely to reject that request – his boss, the president, has indicated he doesn’t see the need for such a prosecutor.” The Democratic Leadership, particularly Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. Diane Feinstein have pushed for secret, closed-door hearings in the Senate Intelligence Committee. Other Democrats, like Patrick Leahy, advocate establishing a Truth Commission, though that is not gaining any momentum. The fact remains that some powerful Democrats knew that the torture was happening and didn’t make a public peep in opposition.

This week, Lawrence Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell came out in favor of prosecutions of “the decision-makers and their closest advisors (particularly the ones among the latter who may, on their own, have twisted the dagger a little deeper in Caesar’s prostrate body -- Rumsfeld and Feith for instance). Appoint a special prosecutor such as Fitzgerald, armed to the teeth, and give him or her carte blanche. Play the treatment of any intermediaries — that is, between the grunts on the ground and the Oval — as the law allows and the results demand.”

Wilkerson, though, understands Washington. “Is there the political will to carry either of these recommendations to meaningful consequences?” he wrote to the Huffington Post. “No, and there won’t be.”

As of now, Conyers and Nadler aren’t exactly looking for over-flow space for their meetings on how to get criminal prosecutions going.

Officially joining the anti-accountability camp this week was The Washington Post ’s David Broder who wrote this gem in defense of the Bush administration: “The memos on torture represented a deliberate, and internally well-debated, policy decision, made in the proper places -- the White House, the intelligence agencies and the Justice Department -- by the proper officials.” (For a great response to this, check out Scott Horton). Broder is urging Obama to “stick to his guns” in standing up to pressure “to change his mind about closing the books on the ‘torture’ policies of the past.” Don’t you love how Broder puts torture in quotes? I really wonder how Broder would describe it if he was waterboarded (and survived). Can’t you just imagine him making the little quote motion with his hands? Broder’s Washington Post column was titled “Stop Scapegoating: Obama Should Stand Against Prosecutions:”

[Obama was] right to declare that there should be no prosecution of those who carried out what had been the policy of the United States government. And he was right when he sent out his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, to declare that the same amnesty should apply to the lawyers and bureaucrats who devised and justified the Bush administration practices.

But now Obama is being lobbied by politicians and voters who want something more -- the humiliation and/or punishment of those responsible for the policies of the past. They are looking for individual scalps -- or, at least, careers and reputations.

Their argument is that without identifying and punishing the perpetrators, there can be no accountability -- and therefore no deterrent lesson for future administrations. It is a plausible-sounding rationale, but it cloaks an unworthy desire for vengeance.

Obama has opposed even the blandest form of investigation, a so-called truth commission, and has shown himself willing to confront this kind of populist anger.

Thank goodness we have a president who opposes “even the blandest form of investigation” -- how uncouth such savagery would prove to be. While the elite Washington press corp works hard to make sure things don’t get too uncomfortable at the wine and cheese cocktail parties, some liberal journalists are also making the case against a special prosecutor (or at least the immediate appointment of one). Last week it was Elizabeth de la Vega, who made an interesting case for waiting to prosecute while evidence is gathered: