Monday, April 27, 2009

Truth, Consequences and Andrew Sullivan

David Broder doesn't get a whole lot of respect in the blogosphere. In more than one case, Border has been viewed as some what bland and grey with his calls for bipartisanship. But of course, Broder has been a reporter for a long time, longer than some of us (myself included) have been alive. He remembers when politics wasn't as nasty as it is now, and remembers when politicians of all stripes worked for the greater good.

Broder wrote an op-ed recently
where he called for the President to "stick to his guns" and not move towards the prosecutions of Bush-era officials who sanctioned torture. He thinks (as I do) that Obama was correct in releasing the torture memos, but fears that going after former Bushies will open a Pandora's box:

But having vowed to end the practices, Obama should use all the influence of his office to stop the retroactive search for scapegoats.

This is not another Sept. 11 situation, when nearly 3,000 Americans were killed. We had to investigate the flawed performances and gaps in the system and make the necessary repairs to reduce the chances of a deadly repetition.

The memos on torture represented a deliberate, and internally well-debated, policy decision, made in the proper places -- the White House, the intelligence agencies and the Justice Department -- by the proper officials.

One administration later, a different group of individuals occupying the same offices has -- thankfully -- made the opposite decision. Do they now go back and investigate or indict their predecessors?

That way, inevitably, lies endless political warfare. It would set the precedent for turning all future policy disagreements into political or criminal vendettas. That way lies untold bitterness -- and injustice.

Suppose that Obama backs down and Holder or someone else starts hauling Bush administration lawyers and operatives into hearings and courtrooms.

Suppose the investigators decide that the country does not want to see the former president and vice president in the dock. Then underlings pay the price while big shots go free. But at some point, if he is at all a man of honor, George W. Bush would feel bound to say: That was my policy. I was the president. If you want to indict anyone for it, indict me.

Is that where we want to go? I don't think so. Obama can prevent it by sticking to his guns.

It's a fair question. Going down the road towards prosecutions will infuriate the right and you can bet that when a Republican adminstation takes power, they will start looking under rocks for supposed crimes.

None of this impresses blogger Andrew Sullivan. He responds to Broder with a withering answer, full of fury at President Bush:

For an administration to secretly and illegally unleash this weapon - against citizens and non-citizens alike - and to demand that it not be subsequently called to account, that it be allowed to get away with it under some absurd notion that it's too divisive to hold war criminals accountable for their crimes is and was an outrage. Punishing those responsible for war crimes is not "scapegoating". You know what scapegoating is? It's throwing Lynndie England in jail for following orders given by George W. Bush, while leaving him to the luxury of a Texan suburb.

He concludes by saying that the stakes are high in not seeking justice:

If America - America - discovers that its own president has illegally tortured and decides that it simply won't do anything about it, that it doesn't matter, that it's too polarizing to restore the rule of law ... then what hope do those people have? To whom will they look when they fight far more pervasive tyranny, buttressed by the same absolute power to coerce the truth and break the human soul?

I have to say that I lost a lot of respect for Andrew Sullivan a long time ago. My problem with him is that he takes on a cause so passionately that he refuses to see the consequences of his actions. In the run-up to the Iraq War, he was one of the most passionate supporters for the war, damn all the concerns that the war could become a quagmire. Anyone that believed we shouldn't go to war, was basically consorting with evil.

Now, Sullivan wants to see the Bushies, the ones he once supported, prosecuted for war crimes and damn the consecquences. Nevermind if this could rip this country apart in ways we have not known.

I am no fan let alone a friend of the Bush Adminstration. I think they did a lot to destroy the Republican Party and sully America. I think they were wrong to even entertain the thought of torture. But other concerns have to be taken into account before we think we need to have war crime trials. If we start investigating a former adminstration in the way that Sullivan and others want, it will not stop there. We will have opened a nasty precedent that we will have to live with for generations. Investigations will fly like crazy.

Border's approach is not perfect. Yes it would allow the Bushies "to get away with it." But in the real world, we sometimes have to make some calls we don't like. Sullivan's approach might be feel better, wrapped in a cloak we think is justice, but it might end up a phyrric victory: winning the battle of bringing Bush to justice and destroying the fabric of America.

Broder remembers when Republicans and Democrats disagreed but were able to friends. he knows the past and sees the present which is not like that anymore. He also fears what the future brings.

Sometimes the old man has something worthwhile to say. It would be nice if young whippersnappers like Sullivan would listen.

1 comment:

Paul Wartenberg said...

I don't see how going after the torturers is going to rip the country apart. We've got 71 percent of those polled by CBS viewing waterboarding as torture. And while that CBS poll has 63 percent not wanting an investigation, Gallup has 51 percent in favor for a federal investigation into the torture regime. The polls are gonna bounce around on this issue.

But this shouldn't be about the polls. This should be about justice. Yeah, in most respects I side with Sullivan on this, but not with his personal venom as you've noted.

I want there to be justice on this matter. I want it noted for the record that torture was and is illegal. That for what I know of the law, what the White House and OLC office did were crimes against our military code, our Geneva treaties, our Constitution.

How would you feel if the Bush administration told their ATF people to go ahead and knock over liquor stores between Rockville to Baltimore? Isn't armed robbery against the law? Isn't armed robbery against the law much the same way torture is against the law? And for all the effort put into the torture memos trying to give the CIA and military interrogators clearance to commit these crimes, those memos were not the law, and they weren't even effective interpretations of the law.

What they did was illegal. If they broke the law, they ought to be treated the same way as if they'd been caught shoplifting at a Wal-Mart, or taking bribes from a lobbyist, or getting blowjobs from an intern (yeah, I had to throw that in just to underscore the hypocrisy of those trying to defend torture). And if what they did broke the law, then they need to answer to the law. It's called justice, and everyone has to answer to it. Even the President of the United States is NOT above the law.