Imagine this scenario: I call Joe Birch at Channel 5 and tell him I've got information about a crime that's been committed, let's say for the sake of argument, an unsolved murder, and I want him to have the "scoop" about who committed it. Joe, knowing what a reliable source I am (i.e., trust me, I'm a lawyer), agrees to interview me, on air, and during the interview, I confess to committing the murder. Now, based on my history, Joe knows I'm not one of those kooks who will confess to anything, from being a shooter on the "grassy knoll" in Dallas, to killing Jimmy Hoffa and dumping his body in the Mississippi River, so he knows my confession isn't a looney-tunes fantasy.
What do you suppose would happen then? Well, of course, Joe, or one of the many thousands of viewers who have heard me confess to the crime, would call the police or DA Bill Gibbons' office so they could have me arrested and prosecuted for the crime, and I would end up in the hoosegow, right? Guess again, Sherlock. Actually, I'm not going to be prosecuted because the Mayor, City Council, the police department and Bill Gibbons have all decided it wouldn't be worth investigating the crime I've confessed to, much less prosecuting me for it because (a) they're not sure murder is a crime, and (b) I'm such a force to be reckoned with in the community (a/k/a the "great and powerful" Gadfly), it would be too disruptive to day-to-day life in Memphis if I were to be prosecuted.
Cheney Waives the Fifth
Think that's silly do you? Well, that's exactly what it looks like is going to happen to some of the biggest war criminals in history, one of whom is so sure he won't be prosecuted for the crimes he has committed, he emerged from his "undisclosed location" just long enough to confess to those crimes on national television. I'm referring to Dick Cheney, who, in one of the most astonishing waivers of a person's Fifth Amendment right in history, actually confessed to ABC News reporter, Jonathan Karl, in a televised interview, that he had participated and approved the so-called "aggressive techniques" that were used to interrogate detainees in America's custody, including the notorious technique known as water boarding (which, of course, he denies is torture). When I saw this on TV, I spewed a mouthful of my supper, and had to immediately check my cable box to make sure it wasn't tuned to the parallel universe channel.
Several facts are important to understand here, by way of context. First, there is no remaining question that agents of the U.S. government used torture on detainees it held in such places as Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. This has been substantiated by such things as the shocking pictures from Abu Ghraib, the report of a human rights group, based on physical and mental examinations of detainees, eyewitnesses to torture, including FBI officials opposed to the use of techniques they considered torture, and, most recently, the written account of an actual interrogator about the torture he witnessed but refused to participate in.
We know that acts of torture were rationalized and enabled by officials in our justice department, including the notorious John Yoo. We know that Bush's top advisers, and Bush himself, knew of and approved "enhanced interrogation" methods". We also know that evidence of torture was destroyed by the people who committed it, in an obvious attempt to cover it up. And, we now also know that what happened at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo wasn't, as we were being falsely and frequently told, the result of a few "bad apples", but was the result of a systematic program that originated at the highest levels of our government, as detailed in an eye-opening report just released by the Senate Armed Services Committee. Those levels go up to, and include, the occupant of the oval office.
Torture of Prisoners
Virtually everyone who has investigated our interrogation procedures has concluded that they violated every applicable law against torture, including the general who did the first investigation of Abu Ghraib, Antonio Taguba, as well as the renowned scholar and international lawyer, Phillippe Sands. It's worth pointing out that the fact torture was sanctified by lawyers not only doesn't immunize the officials who abided it, but exposes those lawyers, themselves, to prosecution.
Finally, and most importantly, our administration can't get away with asserting that the "enhanced" interrogation techniques it used somehow weren't torture, and that, therefore, "America doesn't torture." You need go no further than the denial of water boarding as torture to pierce the ridiculousness of that kind of sophistry. The fact that this country itself prosecuted the use of water boarding as torture when it was used against our own troops is enough to give the lie to this kind of nonsense.
So, we know our leaders, in the name of our country, tortured prisoners in their custody, and we know that there are a whole slew of officials, at every level of our government, who knew about this abuse, enabled it and approved it. And, as if all the other evidence of those facts isn't enough, we now have the brazen admission of the second highest constitutional officer of our country to that effect. Do me something, he seems to be saying. So, obviously, what will ensue are prompt investigations and prosecutions for torture, right? Guess again, Sherlock.
Here's the problem: it doesn't appear that the Obama administration has any interest in going after the government officials who are responsible for torture. Apparently it's more concerned about the appearance of political retribution and the effect of such investigations (much less prosecutions) on Obama's hope for "bipartisanship." That, at least, is what one of the lawyers who might be a subject of such an investigation has suggested (and what possible motivation could he have to do that?). They are floating the idea of a 9/11 commission-type body to do an inquiry, instead of empowering the incoming Justice Department to, right off the bat, do what it's supposed to---investigate and prosecute crimes. There is already a mountain of evidence (not to mention at least one confession) DOJ could move on, without waiting months for the outcome of another politically hamstrung "commission." And yet, influential Democrats seem willing to "let bygones be bygones" when it comes to torture, and "move on." Remember, Democrats were willing to do the same when it came to impeachment. It was disappointing that even one of the authors of the Senate Armed Services Committee report, Carl Levin, was calling for a commission, rather than an immediate referral for criminal prosecution.
The Parallel Universe Channel
The true character of an Obama presidency will be assessed, both immediately and historically, by whether or not he insists on the prompt investigation and prosecution of those responsible for using torture, especially since he has decried torture and promised to end it so "America can regain its moral stature in the world" . There can be no equivocating or posturing on this issue. Torture is a stain on our country's collective psyche, its reputation and its very soul. The people who perpetrated this crime must not be allowed to get away with it. It is not just a dream of millions of Americans to see Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Feith, Wolfowitz, and yes, Yoo, among others, "frog-marched" (a/k/a perp-walked) to waiting paddy wagons for their comeuppance; it is an absolute necessity.
But, on the other hand, since I'm not going to be hypothetically prosecuted for the hypothetical crime I've hypothetically confessed to, I suppose it's ultimately OK if Dick Cheney isn't actually prosecuted for the actual crime he's actually confessed to either. Maybe my cable box was tuned into the parallel universe channel, after all.