Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Glenn Greenwald has an important post about the role that Democrats have played in the Bush torture regime in the past and their continued role in blocking all attempts at prosecution for that regime now. This has been something Greenwald has consistently been saying for the last couple years:

Most people who have spent the last several years (rather than the last several weeks) vehemently objecting to the Bush administration’s rampant criminality have been well aware of, and quite vocal about, the pervasive complicity of many key Democrats in this criminality. Just to cite two examples, here is my December, 2007 post entitled “Democratic complicity in Bush’s torture regime”, and here is another from July, 2008, arguing that Democrats have blocked investigations into Bush crimes because of how it would implicate them; quoting The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer as saying that “many of those who might ordinarily be counted on to lead the charge are themselves compromised”; and quoting Jonathan Turley as saying (on Keith Olbermann’s program) that “the Democrats have been silently trying to kill any effort to hold anyone accountable because that list could very well include some of their own members.”


He takes the media to task for focusing exclusively on the political debate over torture prosecutions rather than on the substantive issues and he shreds the common media theme that prosecutions would “politicize” the whole issue. The truth, he rightly observes, is that prosecutions are being avoided entirely due to political considerations:

Bush-defending opponents of investigations and prosecutions think they’ve discovered a trump card: the claim that Democratic leaders such as Nancy Pelosi, Jay Rockefeller and Jane Harman were briefed on the torture programs and assented to them. The core assumption here — shared by most establishment pundits — is that the call for criminal investigations is nothing more than a partisan-driven desire to harm Republicans and Bush officials (“retribution”), and if they can show that some Democratic officials might be swept up in the inquiry, then, they assume, that will motivate investigation proponents to think twice.

Those who make that argument are clearly projecting. They view everything in partisan and political terms — it’s why virtually all media discussions are about what David Gregory calls “the politics of the torture debate” rather than the substantive issues surrounding these serious crimes — and they are thus incapable of understanding that not everyone is burdened by the same sad affliction that plagues them…

The inability of so many people (both Republicans and Obama-loyal Democrats) to view the need for prosecutions independent of political considerations is a potent sign of how sick our political culture has become. The need for criminal investigations is motivated by one simple, consummately apolitical fact: serious and brutal crimes were committed at the highest levels of the government, ones that left a trail of many victims. A country that purports to live under the rule of law has no choice but to treat its most powerful members who commit serious crimes exactly the same as ordinary citizens who do so. That has nothing to do with Republicans or Democrats.

It has to do with the most central premise of the American system of government: that we are a nation of laws, not men, and all are equal before the law. People like John McCain argue that only “banana republics” prosecute former political leaders, but the reality is exactly the opposite. As the Western world has spent decades pointing out, the hallmark of an under-developed, tyrannical society is the very same premise we have embraced: that political elites are free to break the law with impunity and never suffer the consequences that ordinary citizens do…

Nonetheless, as they have done for years, Democratic leaders continue to lead the way in shielding Bush crimes from scrutiny and stifling public disclosure of what was done. Obama met yesterday with Congressional leaders and emphatically argued against the establishment of a Truth Commission, insisting that such an inquiry would interfere with his political agenda. Senate Majority “Leader” Harry Reid then dutifully and obediently announced that Senate Democrats will block any such investigations in favor of a Senate Intelligence Committee proceeding that will occur largely in secret and will not be completed until the end of the year, at least (I remember when Democrats used to mock GOP leaders for having Dick Cheney come to Congress and give them their marching orders). Democratic Congressional leaders are doing now what they did throughout the Bush presidency: namely, pretending to oppose what was done while doing everything possible to protect and enable it and shield the wrongdoers from scrutiny (in large part because some of the wrongdoing was by their own party).

Obama’s ostensible motives here are no better. The claim that punishing Bush crimes will undermine his political interests is not only false (as Krugman definitively establishes today) but also corrupt. Democrats spent the last several years vehemently complaining about the “politicization of the Justice Department” under Alberto Gonzales. Yet so many of these same Democrats are now demanding that the Obama DOJ refrain from prosecuting Bush criminals based on purely political grounds: namely, that those prosecutions will interfere with Obama’s political agenda…

Punishing politically powerful criminals is about vindicating the rule of law. Partisan and political considerations should play no role in it. It is opponents of investigations and prosecutions who are being driven by partisan allegiances and a desire to advance their political interests. By contrast, proponents of investigations are seeking to vindicate the most apolitical yet crucial principle of our system of government: that we are a nation of laws that cannot allow extremely serious crimes to be swept under the rug for political reasons. That’s true no matter what is best for Obama’s political goals and no matter how many Democrats end up being implicated — ethically, politically or even legally — by the crimes that were committed.

There is, of course, some dispute over which Democratic officials in Congress knew about what was going on and how much they were told. But as Greenwald points out, that is precisely why there needs to be a full investigation. The briefings that leaders of the Congressional intelligence committees received are a matter of record, even if they are classified. An independent prosecutor with a full security clearance and subpoena power can determine what was told, to whom and when. And if that catches Democrats too, so be it.