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Obama Intends to Investigate Use of Torture by Bush Administration
High at the top of my wish list - the things I hope Barack Obama does immediately upon assuming the presidency - is mount an investigation into the Bush Administration's implementation and use of torture. We know from Congressional testimony, second hand accounts and exhaustive journalistic chronicles that torture was not, in fact, carried out by some out of control nightshift staffed with bad apples, It was orchestrated in a systematic, sanctioned program approved at the highest levels of our government. The recent news President-elect Obama intends to close Guantanamo is a hopeful sign that Mr. Obama will address, at least tangentially, the issue of war on terror detentions.
In August, Salon wrote about an Obama plan to investigate the Administration, should he be elected. Obama has said "If crimes have been committed, they should be investigated." Salon reported this week that Obama advisors are developing plans for investigating abuse during Bush's tenure.
Most consider it unlikely that any criminal charges will ever be brought against Bush Administration officials. Great efforts were made by the Administration to cover their trail (and asses) with Justice Department memos and modifications to the War Crimes Act, and the likelihood of ugly, partisan warfare makes any attempt to prosecute the guilty remote. (That does not, however, mean these individuals won't be subject to international law and tribunals, as former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld is well aware.) Any inquiry would most likely take the form of an appointed commission, chartered with investigating timelines, directives, implementation, and the Administration's claims of the effectiveness of torture.
Rumors circulated this summer that President Bush intends to issue a blanket presidential pardon to insure that any and all individuals who approved, orchestrated and implemented these brutal techniques are not prosecuted. The president is within his Constitutional powers to grant such a pardon, though it would be unprecedented in scope (thousands of people?) and the first ever granted to exempt Americans from war crimes prosecution. It might also be construed as a tacit admission of wrongdoing and stain whatever legacy Mr. Bush has left. Though, even if a pardon allows the guilty to avoid prosecution, it may provide for a more open investigation. From Salon:
There are, in fact, some constitutional scholars who believe a pardon might actually facilitate more complete participation in a fact-finding commission, by removing the threat of looming liability. "Holding people accountable is certainly nice, but in terms of healing the country and moving forward, so is actually getting a clear picture of what happened and letting the public make an informed decision," said Kermit Roosevelt at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. "If we had a pardon followed by something like a truth and reconciliation commission, that might not be such a bad outcome." (Roosevelt represents a detainee held at Guantánamo.)
An investigation, even without criminal penalties for the guilty, would send a clear signal to the rest of the world that America is back on track and not governed by leaders with contempt for the law and who believe it's acceptable and in keeping with American values to use the brutal interrogation practices employed and perfected by the Nazis, Khmer Rouge, China and the Stalinist Soviet Union.