When President Obama took office, he and Attorney General Eric Holder declined to prosecute crimes committed by the Bush administration…the fraudulent case for the Iraq War, the illegal detention and treatment of the prisoners at Gitmo, and the failure of government agencies to regulate the gambling addiction of Wall Street. The feeling was that the nation needed to heal…that, in the midst of two wars and an economic calamity, the prosecution of crimes would only make the festering wounds worse. As a result, Bush administration officials were given a pass for war crimes and Wall Street bankers were given a “stay-out-of-jail” card for massive financial fraud.
It’s time for Obama and the Department of Justice to revisit that decision.
The Senate report on the Bush-led torture program chronicles the depravity of our extraordinary renditions and enhanced interrogations. It shows that, under the Bush administration, our nation sank to new lows, placing us among the world’s worst actors. Instead of claiming the high ground in our war on terror, in many ways we joined the so-called “Axis of Evil” as decried by former President Bush himself.
We cannot ever again claim to be the “beacon of hope” or that “shining city upon the hill” as described by Ronald Reagan if we refuse to seek justice against those who committed war crimes in our name. That means an open, and very public, trial of Bush, Cheney, former CIA Director Michael Hayden, former Attorneys General John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales, former Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld, former NSA Director Condoleezza Rice and anyone else within the Bush administration who authorized and ordered torture. We should demand that Richard “The Dick” Cheney repay his share of the reported $39.5 billion in profits made by Halliburton from the Iraq War. We should also reclaim the $81 million paid to the two psychologists who recommended the various forms of torture and, if they refuse to repay their “consulting” fees, we should arraign them on criminal charges.
“But what about the political divisiveness such actions would create?” you may ask.
That ship sailed long ago. It left port on the day of Obama’s inauguration when Mitch McConnell and his Teapublican cronies plotted to make Obama a one-term president by obstructing his nominations and every aspect of his agenda. It gained speed when Senate Teapublicans used the filibuster a record number of times and the GOP House voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act more than 50 times. And it sped out of sight when the GOP House voted to sue the sitting president of the United States.
Despite the president’s best efforts, there has been no healing of the wounds opened by the Bush administration. And there can be no healing of the US reputation unless those who chose to torture prisoners in violation of the Geneva Conventions and the UN treaty against torture are held accountable. Moreover, without a proper accounting, our own citizens and troops will be more vulnerable to torture in conflicts around the world. Does that mean a former president, vice-president, CIA director and assistant attorney general should go to prison? If we were to follow the precedent established by the Nuremburg trials of former Nazi leaders, the answer could very well be yes.
We cannot be a true democracy unless every crime is prosecuted fairly and equally under the law, and unless everyone is held accountable for criminal actions.