The Touching Naivete of the NY Times Editorial Board

The New York Times editorial board published an op-ed on Sunday calling on President Obama to investigate and prosecute those who ordered, provided legal justification for, and carried out torture during the Bush administration. They’re right, of course, but I fear they are a bit naive in their conclusion:

Since the day President Obama took office, he has failed to bring to justice anyone responsible for the torture of terrorism suspects — an official government program conceived and carried out in the years after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

He did allow his Justice Department to investigate the C.I.A.’s destruction of videotapes of torture sessions and those who may have gone beyond the torture techniques authorized by President George W. Bush. But the investigation did not lead to any charges being filed, or even any accounting of why they were not filed.

Mr. Obama has said multiple times that “we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards,” as though the two were incompatible. They are not. The nation cannot move forward in any meaningful way without coming to terms, legally and morally, with the abhorrent acts that were authorized, given a false patina of legality, and committed by American men and women from the highest levels of government on down….

The question everyone will want answered, of course, is: Who should be held accountable? That will depend on what an investigation finds, and as hard as it is to imagine Mr. Obama having the political courage to order a new investigation, it is harder to imagine a criminal probe of the actions of a former president.

CONTINUE READING THE MAIN STORY

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COMMENTS

But any credible investigation should include former Vice President Dick Cheney; Mr. Cheney’s chief of staff, David Addington; the former C.I.A. director George Tenet; and John Yoo and Jay Bybee, the Office of Legal Counsel lawyers who drafted what became known as the torture memos. There are many more names that could be considered, including Jose Rodriguez Jr., the C.I.A. official who ordered the destruction of the videotapes; the psychologists who devised the torture regimen; and the C.I.A. employees who carried out that regimen…

Starting a criminal investigation is not about payback; it is about ensuring that this never happens again and regaining the moral credibility to rebuke torture by other governments. Because of the Senate’s report, we now know the distance officials in the executive branch went to rationalize, and conceal, the crimes they wanted to commit. The question is whether the nation will stand by and allow the perpetrators of torture to have perpetual immunity for their actions.

To whom is that still a question? It was answered long ago. Yes, this nation will stand by and allow those who tortured to have perpetual immunity for their actions. American exceptionalism really means that we don’t think we have to follow the law that other nations follow. We do whatever the fuck we want and we threaten and bully anyone who disputes our right to do so.

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  • culuriel

    Oh Ed, don’t you know that we, as Americans, only get to choose between letting the CIA do whatever it wants and everyone single one of us dying? I mean, if a superpower had to admit that it did something illegal and wrong and stupid and hold the perpetrators responsible, that might immediately open a wormhole through which Al Quaeda can travel directly to the heart of our country and take over!

  • http://www.facebook.com/charlie.cain chuck c

    That whole accountability thing doesn’t work too well when news outlets like the NYT refuse to even use the word ‘torture’ in stories about the practice. They were for it, before they were against it.

  • Michael Heath

    One of the most disappointing aspects of our torturing people is that we knew President Bush and his administration were torturing people prior to the 2004 election, and yet he won re-election*.

    *I parse my words carefully here because I think there’s a good chance the voters didn’t re-elect President Bush given the shennigans in some states, especially Ohio.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    chuck c “They were for it, before they were against it.”

    To be fair, at the time the government was for it, too. Wait. That doesn’t help. If anything that makes it worse.

     

    Michael Heath “One of the most disappointing aspects of our torturing people is that we knew President Bush and his administration were torturing people prior to the 2004 election, and yet he won re-election*.”

    Look, everyone knows you don’t change horses mid-stream. Even if that stream is waterboarding America’s Enemies. Even if they weren’t America’s Enemies before we tortured them. Let me start over.

    Look, everyone knows…

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Also, thanks Obama!*

     

    * For being so tyrannical and weak that you’re failing to prosecute the torture that I’m for!

  • A Masked Avenger

    It’s not just “American Exceptionalism.” It’s good old-fashioned American pragmatism. Just imagine, for a second, that Obama actually investigated–let alone prosecuted–his predecessor for mere war crimes? What do you think would happen when the next President took office? They might investigate the guy who vastly expanded Bush’s drone bombing program, knowingly held innocents at Guantanamo, tried to cover up the torture report, and claims the authority to kill any American on his own say-so alone. That would certainly be… inconvenient.

    Presidents pay it forward.

  • grumpyoldfart

    At the moment the president spends term one trying to win term two, and in term two he doesn’t give a fuck what happens because he can’t get term three. Cut him back to just one term and if he wants to make his mark in the history books, he’ll have to actually do something.

  • http://www.pandasthumb.org Area Man

    Goodness Ed, I sometimes think that a gold bar could fall from the sky into your front yard, and your first reaction would be to complain about the dirt smudges.

    The elite consensus in this country is that it’s wrong to punish elites for their crimes. At best, the mere besmirching of their names is proof that they’ve “suffered enough”, but in most cases they don’t even face that. (Didn’t Glenn Greenwald write a whole book about this?) The point being that until this self-serving elite consensus changes, there can be no justice. As the NYT editorial board, for better or worse, is a representative of elite consensus, this is literally the best thing they could have done.

  • Childermass

    Even if Obama was completely an utterly innocent in both letter and spirit of the law in this issue, it will be very hard for him to prosecute the previous administration almost no matter how bad they were.

    As it is, the right wing of the Republican Party wants to prosecute Pres. Obama for a multitude of charges. A Republican administration is likely to refuse because they know satisfying the tea party’s desire for payback will only result in Democrats taking such payback on them. Indeed such logic is almost always in play in a stable republic. If Obama, goes after the Bush Administration, then the next GOP administration is all but certain to prosecute Obama. Even if he beats the rap, others he know will not, and it will be very stressful for him for several years.

    Bear in mind, places where the high members of a government will need to worry about being locked up (or worse) if they lose power tend to use tactics like coups, canceling of elections, etc. to stay in power. It can happen here. Even if you don’t believe that, it is still a huge conflict of interest for the Administration to decide whether to prosecute either its own members or members of a prior administration. Congress failed to do its job when the treaties on torture were ratified. They only way it could ever work against America perpetrators is if the process is taken away from the administration and political appointees and judges who involved should also very senior i.e. not appointed by the current or prior administration.

  • starskeptic

    That op-ed is just precious…

  • Michael Heath

    grumpyoldfart writes:

    At the moment the president spends term one trying to win term two, and in term two he doesn’t give a fuck what happens because he can’t get term three. Cut him back to just one term and if he wants to make his mark in the history books, he’ll have to actually do something.

    The facts falsify this position. President Obama’s initial efforts in both domestic and foreign policy were largely unpopular. That was respectively passing the biggest stimulus bill he thought he could get away with and keeping the war in Iraq going according to President Bush’s plans while amping up the war in Afghanistan. And then the president guaranteed big congressional losses in 2010 by passing Obamacare – something that wasn’t predicted to start yielding even modest results until 2014, 2 years after his re-election.

    The two biggest initiatives the President’s 2008 supporters demanded was prosecuting the Bush Administration for torture and legalizing marijuana. The president treated the former with contempt while mostly ignoring the latter during much of that term.

  • Pierce R. Butler

    Michael Heath @ # 11: The two biggest initiatives the President’s 2008 supporters demanded was prosecuting the Bush Administration for torture and legalizing marijuana.

    Maybe up there in Michigan. Me and my droogs, we wanted US troops out of Iraq, serious action to prosecute financial criminals and stop foreclosures, New-Deal-esque economic measures, a single-payer health care plan, CO2-reducing energy conservation moves … hey, one-third out of six ain’t bad, by Obama standards as we now know them.

  • Michael Heath

    Me earlier:

    The two biggest initiatives the President’s 2008 supporters demanded was prosecuting the Bush Administration for torture and legalizing marijuana.

    Pierce R. Butler in response:

    Maybe up there in Michigan.

    It would be idiotic of me to conflate what Michigan supporters demanded with that of the entire country. Instead I’m referring to the then president-elect’s initiative to solicit feedback on what his incoming administration’s priorities should be. These two proposals distanced themselves from the rest.

  • Pierce R. Butler

    Michael Heath @ # 13: … I’m referring to the then president-elect’s initiative to solicit feedback …

    The online poll? That struck me at the time as having been gamed by the same sort of hustles that most web-based surveys fall victim to, and not at all representative of those of us who knocked on doors and bought Obama yard signs from independent printers because the local Democratic Party office never had any.

    During the campaign, which is when “supporters” make a big difference, the potheads per se were nearly invisible, and the economic hue and cry (at the grassroots that I saw & read of) had a lot more to do with helping people keep their houses than putting bankers in the Big House.

  • dingojack

    MH — Wait, George the Least tortured and legalised Marijuana? Must have missed him doing the latter!*

    (Clearly Pres. Obama’s 2008 supporters were too stoned on Bush Co. dope to remember the other initiative).

    😉 Dingo

    ———

    * ‘… eats roots shoots and leaves’

  • atheistblog

    Isn’t it obvious that obama won’t prosecute anyone for torture/war crimes ? if he does Of course he will be prosecuted for all his due process less execution and assassinations, drone strikes, who we are kidding ?

    Obama is so selfish for getting elected and even his image so he let cia do propaganda and selected leaking praising him and his admin, do you think he will prosecute previous admin for war crimes and expecting same kind of treatment after he leaves ?

    Obama is weak ? That’s another dumbest argument and excuse those actual ‘weak’ liberals give to support obama, he is not weak, if you look past his rhetoric, he is one of them, his saint is regan.

    What are we talking here and who are we kidding here ?