CLOSING THE PROSECUTORIAL DOOR…. Last week, when the White House released the Bush administration’s torture memos, President Obama’s statement explained there would be no prosecutions of CIA officials who followed the advice of Bush’s OLC in good faith. Whether there might be prosecutions for anyone else remained an open question.
Yesterday, the door that appeared ajar suddenly closed shut.
The Obama administration opposes any effort to prosecute those in the Justice Department who drafted legal memos authorizing harsh interrogations at secret CIA prisons, White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel said yesterday.
Some analysts and lawmakers have called for investigations and possible prosecution of those involved because they say four of the memos, disclosed last week by President Obama, illegally authorized torture. Emanuel’s dismissal of the idea went beyond Obama’s pledge not to prosecute CIA officers who acted on the Justice Department’s legal advice.
“It’s not a time to use our energy and our time in looking back” out of “any sense of anger and retribution,” Emanuel said on ABC’s “This Week.” His remarks reflect the White House’s effort to claim a middle ground after the release of the memos, which had been top secret, angered backers of the Bush administration’s interrogation policy.
As pleased as I was to see the White House release the documents — without significant redactions, despite howls from the intelligence community, knowing there would be significant partisan blowback — describing accountability for alleged criminal behavior as “looking back” with “anger and retribution” is foolish.
It’s simply not how our system of justice is supposed to work. “Bygones” is not the appropriate response to the evidence of criminal wrongdoing contained in the torture memos.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) added that the idea of “criminalizing legal advice after one administration is out of the office is a very bad precedent…. I think it would be disaster to go back and try to prosecute a lawyer for giving legal advice that you disagreed with to a former president.”
But we’re not just dealing with an instance of bad legal advice; we’re talking about high-ranking administration officials establishing and justifying a system that permits war crimes.
Failing to criminalize crimes is what really sets “a very bad precedent.”