President Barack Obama is quite fond of telling the rest of the world that, with his election, the rule of law has been reestablished in America. But, has it really? Can we, as a nation, simply move on in the face of acknowledged war crimes by the previous administration and still pretend that justice is blind? What kind of precedent are we setting for future chief executives? Can we expect them to ignore the law simply because they know they will get away with it if we do not even investigate potential crimes committed by previous administrations?
"My instinct is for us to focus on how do we make sure that moving forward we are doing the right thing," Obama said. "That doesn't mean that if somebody has blatantly broken the law, that they are above the law. But my orientation's going to be to move forward."
Our nation has moved forward before, only to be besieged by the same results later. Years after Richard Nixon was pardoned for his blatant violation of law, two young staffers from that administration, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, were back in the White House secure in the knowledge that no one would have the intestinal fortitude to investigate, much less prosecute, crimes committed at such a high level of government.
Perhaps that is why the previous eight years witnessed illegal wiretapping of American citizens, abuse of war powers, no-bid military contracts, the leaking of state secrets and most disturbingly, war crimes. Yet there is little action being taken to investigate and prosecute these matters. The illegal torture of detainees has been confirmed and reported numerous times, yet the powers-that-be seem to be willing to turn a blind eye to the situation.
The lack of accountability not only provides a green light for future administrations to commit crimes with impunity, it also tarnishes the office of the presidency, casts a shadow over the American criminal justice system and makes the entire nation complicit in those crimes.
Administration officials have admitted to the use of 'waterboarding' as an interrogation technique. A technique in which the victim is immobilized on his or her back with the head inclined downwards while water is poured over the face and breathing passages. The subject experiences drowning by forced suffocation and inhalation and the subject believes he or she is about to die. This technique was used during the Spanish Inquisition and by the murderous Khmer Rouge during the Cambodian Genocide. In fact, following WWII, the United States prosecuted Japanese soldier Yukio Asano for the very same thing. He was eventually sentenced to 15 years hard labor. Bush on the other hand, will receive a government pension, secret service protection and his very own presidential library for authorizing the same exact tactics.
All nations that are signatory to the United Nations Convention Against Torture have agreed they are subject to the explicit prohibition of torture under any condition. As such, we as a nation, have a non-negotiable mandate to hold those responsible for torture accountable. And, it starts at the top.
"The status of George Bush is not that different from Augusto Pinochet," George Washington Constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley said on the Rachel Maddow Show. "They've both been accused of running a torture program. Outside of this country, there is not this ambiguity about what to do about a war crime. There are four treaties that make this an international violation. So if you go abroad, and try to travel, most people abroad are going to view you not as 'former President George Bush' -- they're going to view you as a current war criminal."
But, virtually no one in this country has demonstrated the will to do the right thing.
"What am I supposed to say?" Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said in a Rolling Stone interview before the most recent election. "We don't have a working majority. That's just as simple as it gets. We need to take back another eight or nine seats here in the Senate and get a Democratic president to get things on the right course."
As it turns out, the Democrats managed to gain nine seats in the Senate (counting Al Franken as the winner in the still unresolved Minnesota Senate race) and now have a Democrat majority in the White House, yet little action is being taken. Perhaps that is because President Obama has repeatedly said, "generally speaking, I'm more interested in looking forward than I am in looking backwards." But there is no looking forward unless we look back and right the wrongs of the past.
At this perilous time in our nation's history, it is absolutely necessary to seek out truth and justice and set the right precedent. Otherwise we are simply opening the door for future abuses and are explicitly stating that there are those among us that are above the law.
"This is perhaps one of the most transformative moments in our history," Turley said. "If we do nothing in the face of now-confirmed war crimes, then they won't be Bush crimes. They'll be our crimes. That's the point: that if you walk away from a war crime, if you walk away from eight treaties and federal laws that say we cannot torture, then it becomes our shame. It's a defining moment for us."