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Torture: Are Bush aides liable?

Democrats in Congress are debating whether officials in the Bush administration should be prosecuted for their participation in wiretapping and torture. 

Should Bush administration officials be prosecuted for war crimes? That question is now being hotly debated among Democrats in Congress, said The Washington Post in an editorial. Some liberal interest groups and bloggers argue that the wiretapping of American citizens and the waterboarding of terrorism suspects were clearly criminal acts; consequently, they say, the officials who authorized and participated in these crimes should be held responsible in a court of law. For Barack Obama, this issue poses a real dilemma, said Scott Horton in TheDailyBeast.com. As he tries to create bipartisan support for his new presidency, Obama is “eager to avoid an appearance of revenge or retaliation against the Bush administration.” But he also knows that if Bush’s use of torture goes unchallenged, it “will be a precedent to which future presidents may turn.” 

If White House officials went too far, they only did so to protect the nation, said Jack Goldsmith, a former assistant attorney general in the Bush administration, in The Washington Post. Ongoing internal investigations at the CIA and the Justice Department will eventually make the whole story known to the public, including who approved what. Isn’t destroying people’s reputations enough? President Bush could put an end to this circus now by granting pardons to “everyone who served in good faith in the war on terror,” said William Kristol in The Weekly Standard. “The CIA agents who waterboarded Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and the NSA officials who listened in on phone calls from Pakistan,” saved American lives. Instead of being subject to “public defamation,” they deserve the Medal of Freedom.

Visit any criminal courtroom, said Glenn Greenwald in Salon.com, and you’ll hear a similar plea: “My reputation has been ruined. I’ve already been punished enough, Your Honor.” The political class uniformly “rejects those pleas”—even from “people who commit petty, harmless offenses.” Only a “shrill rabble,” it seems, would even think of sending white-collar thugs like Dick Cheney, Alberto Gonzales, and other Bushies to prison for such unimportant crimes as torture or wiretapping innocent Americans. But to save America’s reputation, war crimes cannot be swept under the rug, said Andrew Sullivan in the London Sunday Times. “Perhaps the sanest way forward is a truth commission,” with strong subpoena power to uncover the facts in a public forum. To “regain moral authority in the world,” the U.S. must “demonstrate it lives by the same standards it expects from everyone else.”

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