The Rule Of Law
From the AP:
“Barack Obama’s incoming administration is unlikely to bring criminal charges against government officials who authorized or engaged in harsh interrogations of suspected terrorists during the George W. Bush presidency. Obama, who has criticized the use of torture, is being urged by some constitutional scholars and human rights groups to investigate possible war crimes by the Bush administration.
Two Obama advisers said there’s little — if any — chance that the incoming president’s Justice Department will go after anyone involved in authorizing or carrying out interrogations that provoked worldwide outrage.
The advisers spoke on condition of anonymity because the plans are still tentative. A spokesman for Obama’s transition team did not respond to requests for comment Monday.
Additionally, the question of whether to prosecute may never become an issue if Bush issues pre-emptive pardons to protect those involved.”
This is a big mistake. It is enormously important that we establish the principle that members of the government cannot break the law with impunity, and we cannot do that without being willing to prosecute them when, as in this case, there is overwhelming evidence that they violated the law. This is especially true of the most senior members of government, like the Vice President.
That said, I can easily see why Obama might not want to do this. The problem isn’t just that it would be bad for him to be seen as carrying out a partisan witch hunt; it would also be bad for the law, and for these prosecutions, if they were seen as a partisan witch hunt.
Luckily, there’s a fairly obvious solution to this problem. Obama should appoint a special prosecutor. (If current laws do not allow for this, they should be changed.) This prosecutor should be someone with an unimpeachable reputation for wisdom, rectitude, and non-partisanship. (Think Archibald Cox.) He or she should be given complete independence, and should decide, without any interference from anyone in government, whether or not to bring charges. That would allow charges to be brought if they are merited, while minimizing the chances that they would be seen as partisan.
Altogether too many people believe that the laws do not apply to people in power. This is always a dangerous thing for people to think in a democracy; it is especially dangerous since some of the people who believe this are in power now, and others might attain power in the future. It is very, very important that this belief be wrong. And whether or not it is wrong depends on President-elect Obama. I hope he chooses wisely.