BY EDWIN E. VINEYARD
There is an increasing vocal demand for the Obama people to go after Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and others for civil liberties offenses against the American people and for war crimes in violation of law and the Geneva Convention rules [incorporated into law] for treatment of prisoners.
A similar call comes from some international sources for war crimes violations. If these come to a head in the form of an investigation and bringing of evidence before the court at The Hague, then some Bush officials could be in jeopardy if they should travel abroad. This would cause a strain in world relationships, even if international courts are unrecognized in this country. This could be very serious.
Both Bush and Cheney have admitted to knowledge of water-boarding and other extreme measures in interrogation of prisoners, but declare that they instructed those involved to seek legal opinions first. We know now how Alberto Gonzales worked on this, and took it to then-Attorney General John Ashcroft in the hospital where it was refused. But it was later cleared by them anyway.
Bush and Cheney lied to the people through the media about tapping Americans’ phone calls to one another without court approval. White House officials lied during the Valerie Plame CIA outing, but only Scooter Libby was prosecuted and his sentence commuted. Justice Department and White House officials lied while rejecting subpoenas about the firing of U.S. district attorneys for political reasons and use of the justice system as a partisan political tool in filing of baseless charges. Bush and Cheney lied about intelligence reports leading to the Iraq War. Officials have engaged in practices commonly recognized as “torture,” translated “war crimes.”
There is little doubt that there is a fairly strong case for prosecution of numerous Bush officials for legal infractions. It is understandable why many citizens and many media people are demanding that Obama pursue prosecution to hold them accountable and teach a lesson for future would-be usurpers of power.
Many Democrats remember well the Republican-sponsored, suborned, continuous legal harassment of Bill Clinton throughout his two terms for past business dealings and for matters of personal conduct with women.
In their minds, the Republicans deserve no breaks on allegations of crimes in office involving the welfare of the nation.
In spite of all this, Obama is reluctant to make any statements promising to hold the past officials accountable legally for their crimes. Instead, he calls for the nation to direct its attention forward rather than backward.
We agree with Mr. Obama.
It would be an extremely bad precedent for a new administration from a different political party to come in and execute a sweeping legal vendetta against the predecessor.
Besides inciting hostility from the party of the past administration, setting such a precedent could lead to excessive timidity in future administrations to make tough and bold decisions that are often needed in unusual or crisis situations. While no one condones deliberate law breaking, such offenses are impeachable and, if flagrant, that should be the contiguous remedy.
However, it probably is appropriate for the Justice Department or similar authority to establish some kind of impartial commission with subpoena powers to investigate and report on allegations of wrongful conduct. Thus, an authentic record could be established, and those guilty of misjudgments, mistakes, or wrongful conduct can be cited.
Some care should be exercised in any domestic investigation lest it provide fuel to a fire of international demands.
While some regard the commission approach as a “slap on the wrist,” and view it with disdain, the view here is that such is sufficient for the historical record, for deterrence, and for defusing international concerns.
Setting the precedent of prosecuting one’s predecessor in political leadership is remindful of the Third World’s custom of bloody changes of power, followed by the execution of the former leader. Such can lead to even more oppressive measures of those in power to maintain their position, and it undermines the orderly changes through election which have been our democratic tradition.
No long term good comes from vengeance upon the outgoing leadership.
– Dr. Edwin E. Vineyard lives in Enid, OK and is a regular contributor to The Oklahoma Observer