A New York Democrat argued that failing to prosecute former Bush administration officials complicit in the use of torture would create a dangerous precedent and place America on a path to "tyranny."
In an interview with Raw Story, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) invoked a "supremacy of laws" when critiquing President Barack Obama's decision to "look forward and not backwards" on his predecessor's abuses of power.
"Those who misuse government power to break the law and subject people to improper pressure or torture ought to be prosecuted," said Nadler, chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties. "That's why we have laws."
The Brooklyn-born Nadler, who has represented New York City since 1993, has taken a special interest in championing civil liberties during the last decade. He rebukes the Patriot Act. He opposes FISA wiretapping. He rejects the partial suspension of Habeas Corpus to fight terrorism.
"Since the Patriot Act, I think we've gone overboard," Nadler said. "Not that we've gone overboard on security, we certainly need the security, but we've done things that are unnecessary to do in terms of restricting civil liberties."
The Obama administration has declined to launch an investigation into illegal activities carried out during the Bush administration -- such as the practice of waterboarding, which is widely considered a form of torture, on terror suspects.
"If you don't prosecute, or if you don't investigate, then what you're saying is government can do anything," Nadler argued. "And that's a formula for tyranny. So I think it's very important." As for looking forward and not backwards? "By that standard you'd never prosecute any crime."
White House officials and some analysts fear that a drawn-out investigation, which would be virulently fought by Republicans, would drain the capacity of Democrats to advance their domestic agenda.
Nadler argues that to sustain a democracy, it's vitally important to hold lawmakers accountable for their crimes even more so than with private citizens. "People who break the law, ought to be held accountable," he said, "especially if they're in government, because they have more power."
Though he is among a Congressional minority on some civil liberties issues, Nadler continues to speak out against what he deems gratuitous expansions of executive power that began under the Bush administration and have persisted under Obama.
"I do not believe that they add to national security," he said. "National security has to be protected, but protected right."