Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Obama playing politics with torture evidence?


Turn back pages of political history to May 2006 when then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi adamantly muzzled any talk of impeaching President Bush if Democrats won control of the House later that year.

As The Washington Post reported then, Pelosi was "seeking to choke off a Republican rallying cry" to block the Democrat takeover, despite incontrovertible evidence that the Bush White House had used lies to justify attacking Iraq.

Pelosi's anti-impeachment decision thus was calculated to buy political peace with Republicans. She was far from expressing sound jurisprudence.

What Republicans gave Pelosi in return for her being nice-nice to the president was utterly no peace. Instead, House Democratic control thereafter was besieged by Republican obstructionism even as Bush-Cheney lawless misconduct escalated.

Now President Obama's call to forgive, if not forget, the barbarism of Bush-Cheney kidnapping and torture of detainees embodies the same naïve hope—that avoiding criminal trials of high-ranking Bush White House officials, implicitly perhaps the former president and vice president, would buy GOP support for the prodigious Obama agenda.

How foolhardy. Republicans have only one arrow in their political quiver—to oppose Obama at every turn and continually denounce him as "socialist," "big government Democrat" and "weak," ad infinitum, to keep conservative Republican voters in line for 2012.

If, indeed, authors of the Bush-Cheney torture policies are spared criminal proceedings, President Obama will have a troubling and unwieldy double standard of justice on his hands.

How will Obama's Justice Department deal with lesser crimes, including such outrages as Bush-era imprisonment of Alabama Democratic Gov. Don Siegelman that 52 former state attorneys general have branded as political? How about fraud and theft involving tens of millions of dollars in Iraq war procurements? What about prosecuting Bush appointees for firing Justice Department lawyers because they refused to prosecute cases based on politics?

Exempting torture from prosecution but pursuing far less momentous crimes would be an unseemly double standard.

Is President Obama also placing his ambitious political programs above criminal justice by wanting to avoid a national investigation and possible trials for torture that would keep Americans focused on the criminal justice drama?

Remember, the nation conducted its business while handily surviving the drama of the 1950s McCarthy hearings, the spellbinding 1970s Watergate hearings that led to President Nixon's resignation in disgrace and the abortive late-1990s impeachment trial of President Clinton.

Reconfirming the rule of law over the crime of torture surely is as vital to President Obama's vision for America as, say, saving General Motors.

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