So Holder has struggled with the question; should people be held accountable for something that any serious observer knows is an international war crime? It's enough to make a fella start drinking... a tough, tough question.
And a question that seems closer to being answered.
U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. is poised to appoint a criminal prosecutor to investigate alleged CIA abuses committed during the interrogation of terrorism suspects, current and former U.S. government officials said.
A senior Justice Department official said that Holder envisioned an inquiry that would be narrow in scope, focusing on "whether people went beyond the techniques that were authorized" in Bush administration memos that liberally interpreted anti-torture laws.
The tough decision may have been made -- at least, partially. The fact is that many of those "techniques that were authorized" were just as illegal as the ones that weren't. You'd almost think that Holder is trying to avoid looking into those authorized techniques. See, doing that would involve investigating those who authorized them and then you'd get those destroyed lives and brilliant careers ending. No one wants that. Clearly, they've suffered enough.
Take former US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. He had a lot to do with those authorizations and it's ruined his life. Now he's got a job way below the station of a man once on the short list of future Supreme Court Justices. He's got a gig teaching political science at Texas Tech, where all the other professors hate him because they're liberal elitists. In an interview with New York Times Magazine, Gonzales beweeps his outcast state.
Would you agree that your reputation was damaged by your service as attorney general?
It has had an effect, a negative effect, no question about it, and at times it makes me angry because it is undeserved. But I don't want to sound like I am whining. At the end of the day, I've been the attorney general of the United States. It's a remarkable privilege, and I stand behind my service.
Yes, it's so unfair. Just because you politicized the Justice Department, fired attorneys who failed an ideological purity test, hired incredibly underqualified people because they graduated from Pat Robertson's Matchbook U -- to the near exclusion of anyone else, tried to strong-arm John Ashcroft in his hospital bed, destroyed the department's Civil Rights division, and authorized illegal surveillance and torture. That's the short list. You resigned in disgrace after pretending to be able only to remember your name in congressional testimony and are still under investigation for that whole attorney purge thing. Of course, that's all someone else's fault. Alberto Gonzales himself is the flower of perfection and a shining example of complete innocence.
So it would be terribly unjust to investigate him for torture. Or John Yoo or Dick Cheney or -- God forbid -- George W. Bush. It'd be much, much wiser to pretend that everything they signed was legal. It was legal because it was authorized and it was authorized because it was legal and if that seems like circular reasoning to you, you're overthinking it by thinking about it at all.
If LA Times is right, then Holder isn't making the mistake of thinking about it. The executive branch gets to write law and legalize torture all on their lonesome. If that makes the House and the Senate redundant, then so be it. Think of poor, poor Alberto Gonzales, his only crimes being sadism, corruption, employment discrimination, lying to congress (we all know he could remember more than just the stuff that made him look good), illegal wiretapping, harassing an old guy in the hospital, exceeding his constitutional authority, ordering torture, and general douchebaggery. Hasn't he suffered enough?
Some don't think so.
"An investigation that focuses only on low-ranking operators would be, I think, worse than doing nothing at all," Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, told the LA Times. It might even be what you call a "whitewash." A pretense of justice made all the more realistic by sacrificing an overzealous sadist or two.
Of course, doing things this way sets a historical precedent. The House of Representatives under Nancy Pelosi has already set the precedent that there's no such thing as an impeachable offense. Now Holder seems poised to establish that there's no such thing as an illegal order.
Maybe that possibility should be what's giving Attorney General for the United States Eric Holder night sweats -- the possibility of establishing the precedent that presidents and their cabinet members have de facto dictatorial power. That the unenforced law is no law at all and that the unpunished criminal is a successful criminal. That an administration can commit crimes, right out there in the open in front of everyone, and get away with them.
I know that's what's keeping me up at night.
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