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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 3/3/09

Obama and Holder Must Prosecute War Crimes or Become Guilty of Them Themselves

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By Dave Lindorff

The dithering and ducking going on in the Obama White House and the
Holder Justice Department over the crimes of the Bush administration
are taking on a comic aspect.

On the one hand, we have President Obama assuring us that under his
administration, there will be respect for the rule of law, and on the
other hand we have this one-time constitutional law professor and his
attorney general declaiming that there is no need for the appointment
of a prosecutor to bring charges against the people in the last
administration, in the CIA, in the National Security Agency and in the
Defense Department and the military who clearly have broken the law in
serious and felonious ways.

What gets silly is that America is either a nation of laws…or it
isn’t. It is either a place where “nobody is above the law”…or it isn’t.

There is really no middle ground here.

The latest solid and incontrovertible evidence of outrageous and
criminal behavior by the White House is the discovery—and the public
release by the Obama administration—of documentary evidence that the
CIA committed not just torture but willful obstruction of justice by
destroying video tapes of some 92 interrogations of terrorism suspects
and captives in the so-called Bush “War” on Terror. Plus the release of
a stack of nine legal opinions by White House and Justice Department
lawyers providing legal cover for torture, including executive orders
from President Bush and directives from then Secretary of Defense
Donald Rumsfeld authorizing torture.

We now know that those legal opinions were so blatantly illegal and
simply designed to provide cover that the authors--former Deputy
Assistant Attorney General John Yoo (now ensconsed in a tenured faculty
position at the law school of UC Berkeley where he teaches, with a
straight face, constitutional law, and writes a syndicated opinion
column on similar topics), and his then boss, Jay Bybee, then Assistant
Attorney General for the Office of White House Legal Counsel, and now
an appeals court judge for the Ninth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals
in San Francisco—had them classified, simply to hide them from public
inspection. For those memos alone, Yoo should be fired from his
teaching post and disbarred, while Bybee, who failed to mention his
activities during his judicial confirmation hearings, should be
impeached. That would just be for starters.

Setting aside the many other crimes of the Bush administration for
a moment—the authorization of a massive warrantless electronic spying
program on Americans, the use of military personnel to actively spy on
groups engaged in lawful First Amendment activities, the lying about
reasons for going to war in Iraq, etc.--the issue of officially
sanctioned acts of torture by American forces, which we know occurred,
is not just a crime under the US Criminal Code, which since 1996 has
incorporated the Geneva Conventions specifically as US law. The
planning and sanctioning of torture, as well as the covering up of
torture, and the failure to punish torture are also crimes.

The Obama administration may, on the basis of whatever twisted
political logic it is operating under, not want to appoint a prosecutor
and indict the war criminals of the Bush administration. But this is
not a question of whether or not to push for health care or labor law
reform, where the Obama administration has a right to consider what the
political pros and cons are of moving forward. Here, we’re talking
about enforcing the law. There are no options but acting. Not only does
a commitment to the rule of law require prosecution here, right up to
the president and vice president. The failure to prosecute
war criminals is in itself a crime, meaning that there is a narrow
window of time to act before Obama himself, and his attorney general
Eric Holder, will be open to charges that they too are war criminals.

If we don’t get a prosecution going of Bush administration
officials responsible for war crimes, the day will come when not only
will George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld
be unable to travel abroad. Barack Obama and Eric Holder will also be
confined to US soil.

To join the campaign to make the Obama Administration obey the law and prosecute war crimes by the last administration, go here.

DAVE LINDORFF is a Philadelphia-based journalist. His latest
book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006 and now
available in signed collector’s edition hardcover or in paperback
direct from the author). Order from, where you can also read other work by the author.

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Dave Lindorff, winner of a 2019 "Izzy" Award for Outstanding Independent Journalism from the Park Center for Independent Media in Ithaca, is a founding member of the collectively-owned, journalist-run online newspaper (more...)

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