Ari Melber makes a great point about outstanding questions of how the Obama administration will be able to restore the rule of law and prosecute those responsible for a number of civil liberties violations, war crimes, and anti-American acts.
The immunity crowd has one more card to play. Crimes committed on behalf of national security, they say, are different. On closer inspection, that claim also dissolves into an elitist pitch for the powerful.
The fact is that there are U.S. soldiers sitting in jail right now for what happened at Abu Ghraib.
The question is not whether to prosecute those crimes; that process has already begun. The question is whether the Bush administration correctly prosecuted the people actually responsible for the conduct — or whether the entire episode was blamed on those low on the chain of command.
This is very salient, especially given the intrinsic desire for people inside the Beltway to try and put the past behind us regardless of the consequences. There is always a desire to take any action on a situation and presume that it is sufficient to count as handling the problem. We’re already seeing a drumbeat for Obama to put the past behind him and not investigate Bush era officialdom for their role in torture, warrantless wiretapping, and the illegal politicization of the Justice Department. Melber makes a strong case that because prosecution on some of these matters has already begun, the question should rightly be on whether they need stop with the new administration.
Continuing prosecutions of higher level Bush administration officials involves recognizing that the buck will almost never stop at a lowly grunt doing a job they weren’t trained to do. This isn’t about retribution or prosecuting the political. It’s about ensuring that there is meaningful disincentive for any other executive branch officials to ever again maintain such a casual attitude towards the law and the rule of law that they will not bow before the pressure of a White House with no moral inclination to keep the US government’s actions in line with our principles and beliefs.