Friday, April 24, 2009

Why does this need to be said?

Glenn Greenwald, in today's excellent (and devastating) post, makes this unremarkable statement:
People like John McCain argue that only "banana republics" prosecute former political leaders, but the reality is exactly the opposite.
Indeed. Why doesn't the so-called "liberal media" point this out? It is only in a country where the rule of law doesn't hold that "former political leaders" are given a pass ... by dint of being "former political leaders". There, politics is a consideration as to whether someone is "guilty". In a sane and legal state, politicians are treated the same as anyone else ... and if they committed crimes, they are punished.

Granted, a "banana republic" may also prosecute some former political leaders even if no crime was committed ... for political reasons as well (once again, because "politics is a consideration as to whether someone is 'guilty'"), but their failings there are hardly any expiation of the sins of unaccountability for those that escape prosecution because of political considerations. McCain's statement assumes implicitly that no "political leaders" ever commit crimes (except perhaps in "banana republics", but there he assumes that such leaders do get prosecuted). This assumption in not warranted.


Update:

Entirely in accord with Glenn's point, we have this from Michael Dorf:
Criminal charging decisions are indeed partly a matter of reading the applicable laws. But prosecutors, including the Attorney General, also have discretion, and it is hard to imagine that political considerations would not play some role in the determination whether to seek indictments arising out of the detainee abuse.
Yes, indeed, we have to look at this in "context". And who can deny the political implications? And why shouldn't they be considered?!?!? To deny that is to deny reality itself....

Later, Dorf says this:
There is, in addition, a principled basis for not prosecuting the architects of the Bush detainee abuse program: In the long run, to do so could be bad for our democracy.

In non-democratic regimes and fragile democracies, politics is an extremely high-stakes affair because those who win power often use that power to confiscate the property of, imprison, or even kill those who formerly held power. This is why transitions from one government to the next are so fraught outside of stable democracies.

Thus, one of the great, but often unnoticed, virtues of democracy is that it lowers the stakes of politics. Electoral losers know that they will be permitted to enter private life, or regroup and fight another political battle; conversely, winners know that they could lose the next election. Because electoral defeat is a setback but not a personal disaster, politicians across a broad swath of the ideological spectrum stay involved in the system, rather than literally attacking each other.

Prosecution of political opponents threatens to raise the stakes of politics and thus to undercut this important feature of democracy. Lengthy trials of Bush Administration officials for authorizing torture would inevitably be perceived as partisan, and would likely lead to a further cycle of recriminations....
"[R]ecriminations"?!?!? How so? Isn't this assuming that the prosecutions are baseless? If so, make that case first!!!

This is confooo-gabble of the highest order. "Banana republics" and "fragile democracies" suffer from the defect that purely political prosecutions are possible there, and tear at the fabric of their nascent (or non-existent) "democracy", thus, for them, a ban on political prosecution might be justified. But we have a strong democracy. We are thus able to withstand prosecution of political figures. But we shouldn't prosecute political figures because if we do, we risk looking like the "banana republics" that shouldn't be prosecuting political figures, and thus risk becoming such a "banana republic".

He continues:
... One need not think that the U.S. would actually slip into dictatorship to worry about these effects....
And if we're not at risk, what's the problem? That the Rethuglicans might get back in power and do a Lewinskygate "Starr Chamber" again? Hate to break the news, Michael, but they'll do that anyway....
... In this sense, if President Obama or Attorney General Holder makes the political judgment that there is no angle to be found in prosecutions, that decision could also be fairly characterized as a matter of principle.
Just those words need to be considered in their sublime essence.

2 Comments:

At 8:02 AM, Blogger mattski said...

Arne, I'm not as confident as you are about the ability of our society to handle prosecutions, which I think are justified but not necessarily doable, at least for the time being.

For one, the Siegelman case shows that political prosecutions did occur under Bush. For another, the loony right has a lot of friends in the MSM. I fear their ability to foment violence, for they are by their nature lovers of violence.

 
At 5:42 AM, Blogger Farris W said...

Here are a few things I have learned from reading the following transcript:

1. If we had waterboarded a few of those al Queda guys before 9/11, The
World Trade Center would still be there.
2. We have only waterboarded evil men. If they are not evil, we do not
waterboard them. It is not torture if we only waterboard evil men. It is
only torture if we waterboard men who are not evil and we have only water-
boarded three men, so therefore there are only three evil men on the planet.
3. We have been in conflict with al Queda for eight years and we have not been
able to reduce their numbers, even though we have foiled various unknown
plots through the use of an alternate set of interrogation procedures that
most everone agrees is not torture.
4. It seems that we are going to be in a state of war for the forseeable future.
5. The Bush administration can take credit for the fact that there have been no
major attacks on the homeland since 9/11 because of their interrogation
procedures, but, for some unknown reason the administration can not be
blamed for the events of 9/11 itself. The Clinton administration must be
blamed for that.
6. It has been proven from what Cheney has said here that these procedures
do produce intelligence, so that means they work and if they work, that means
that it is legal and moral to use them. If they did not work, their use would be
illegal and immoral.
7. It seems that the Vice President took a different oath than most others took.

Here is the oath he said he took, followed by the oath copied from the text of
the constitution:

Now, if you’d look at it from the perspective of a senior government official, somebody like
myself, who stood up and took the oath of office on January 20th of ‘01 and raised their right
hand and said we’re going to protect and defend the United States against all enemies foreign
and domestic, this was exactly, exactly what was needed to do it.

"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of
President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve,
protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

8. We have the option of putting American lives at risk or using interrogation
procedures similar to those used by the Gestapo in WWII.
9. There was nothing devious or deceitful or dishonest or illegal about what was done.
10. We should not stop the air attacks in Afghanistan. If we kill a few babies in the
process of dropping 500 pound bombs on the al Queda guys, bad luck. Besides,
all those babies said to be killed by our bombs were actually killed by Taliban
grenades, just to make it look bad on America.
11. We can not move the terrorists in Guantanamo to prisons in the States. That would
put American citizens at risk from these hardened, fanatical radicals. But leaving
them in Cuba poses no risk to citizens of Cuba.


CQ Transcriptswire
SPEAKERS: BOB SCHIEFFER, HOST
FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES DICK CHENEY

 

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