Without a blush (since he can't do that), Dick Cheney has told ABC News that, yeah, he was definitely with the program on waterboarding: "And your point is....?" he appeared to say. As Marjorie Cohn writes here, our self-selected, unelected Veep is obviously confident either that George W. Bush will pardon him, or that Barack Obama will not prosecute him.
What exactly he's been told by either man we don't know, and may never know. In any case, such a pardon and non-prosecution both would be illegal, Cohn explains. So if Cheney walks, he'll do it because the rest of us just let him get away with it.
So we can't accept a pardon, or a Clinton-like refusal to go after Cheney and his goons after Inauguration Day. (I say "Clinton-like," because Bill Clinton, after his inauguration, dropped both Iraqgate and Iran-contra like two very hot potatoes, even though he had the goods, big-time, on Bush the Elder.)
This means, in Obama's case, that we cannot accept the cynical position that he has to let those criminals walk, so that he'll have the time and energy to realize those groovy promises he kept making to us: quasi-universal health care, bringing all those soldiers in Iraq back home (or to Afghanistan), millions of new jobs, lots of greening, and so on.
We can't buy that argument, as it would mean that we care less about the Constitution, and the actual survival of ourselves as a republic, than we do about those leftish goodies that Obama will hand out to all, if everybody will just shut their mouths and let the man get down to business. And if that's the case, this erstwhile nation "of the people, by the people, for the people" will be something else: a place much nicer, certainly, than Bush/Cheney's America, but actually no freer, or more just.
Cheney Throws Down Gauntlet, Defies Prosecution for War Crimes
Friday 19 December 2008
by: Marjorie Cohn, t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Vice President Dick Cheney has admitted to authorizing torture. (Photo: Getty Images)
Dick Cheney has publicly confessed to ordering war crimes. Asked about waterboarding in an ABC News interview, Cheney replied, "I was aware of the program, certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared." He also said he still believes waterboarding was an appropriate method to use on terrorism suspects. CIA Director Michael Hayden confirmed that the agency waterboarded three al-Qaeda suspects in 2002 and 2003.
US courts have long held that waterboarding, where water is poured into someone's nose and mouth until he nearly drowns, constitutes torture. Our federal War Crimes Act defines torture as a war crime punishable by life imprisonment or even the death penalty if the victim dies.
Under the doctrine of command responsibility, enshrined in US law, commanders all the way up the chain of command to the commander in chief can be held liable for war crimes if they knew or should have known their subordinates would commit them and they did nothing to stop or prevent it.
Why is Cheney so sanguine about admitting he is a war criminal? Because he's confident that either President Bush will preemptively pardon him or President-elect Obama won't prosecute him.
Both of those courses of action would be illegal.
First, a president cannot
immunize himself or his subordinates for committing crimes that he himself authorized. On February 7, 2002, Bush signed a memo erroneously stating that the Geneva Conventions, which require humane treatment, did not apply to al-Qaeda and the Taliban. But the Supreme Court made clear that Geneva protects all prisoners. Bush also admitted that he approved of high-level meetings where waterboarding was authorized by Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, John Ashcroft, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld and George Tenet.
Attorney General Michael Mukasey says there's no need for Bush to issue blanket pardons since there is no evidence that anyone developed the policies for any reason other than to protect the security in the country and in the belief that he or she was doing something lawful. But noble motives are not defenses to the commission of crimes.
Lt. Gen. Antonio Taguba, who investigated the Abu Ghraib scandal, said, "There is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account."
Second, the Constitution will require President Obama to faithfully execute the laws. That means prosecuting lawbreakers. When the United States ratified the Geneva Conventions and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, thereby making them part of US law, we agreed to prosecute those who violate their prohibitions.
The bipartisan December 11 report of the Senate Armed Services Committee concluded that "senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees."
Lawyers who wrote the memos that purported to immunize government officials from war crimes liability include John Yoo, Jay Bybee, William Haynes, David Addington and Alberto Gonzales. There is precedent in our law for holding lawyers criminally liable for participating in a common plan to violate the law.
Committee Chairman Senator Carl Levin told Rachel Maddow that you couldn't legalize what's illegal by having a lawyer write an opinion.
The committee's report also found that Rumsfeld's authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques for use at Guantanamo Bay was a direct cause of detainee abuse there. Those techniques migrated to Iraq and Afghanistan, where prisoners in US custody were also tortured.
Pardons or failures to prosecute the officials who planned and authorized torture would also be immoral. Former Navy General Counsel Alberto Mora testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee in June 2008 that "there are serving US flag-rank officers who maintain that the first and second identifiable causes of US combat deaths in Iraq - as judged by their effectiveness in recruiting insurgent fighters into combat - are, respectively the symbols of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo."
During the campaign, Obama promised to promptly review actions by Bush officials to determine whether "genuine crimes" were committed. He said, "If crimes have been committed, they should be investigated," but "I would not want my first term consumed by what was perceived on the part of the Republicans as a partisan witch hunt, because I think we've got too many problems we've got to solve."
Two Obama advisers told the Associated Press that "there's little - if any - chance that the incoming president's Justice Department will go after anyone involved in authorizing or carrying out interrogations that provoked worldwide outrage."
When he takes office, Obama should order his new attorney general to appoint an independent prosecutor to investigate and prosecute those who ordered and authorized the commission of war crimes.
Obama has promised to bring real change. This must be legal and moral change, where those at the highest levels of government are held accountable for their heinous crimes. The new president should move swiftly to set an important precedent that you can't authorize war crimes and get away with it.