Can a President rule out an “inquiry into possible criminal behavior”?
President Obama has “vowed not to prosecute C.I.A. officers” who tortured prisoners because those officers were “acting on legal advice….”
According to the New York Times, Philip D. Zelikow, former state department advisor to President Bush, says, “No.” Obama cannot rule out such an inquiry.
I agree with Zelikow.
Apparently, President Obama does not want to demoralize the C.I.A with an investigation.
To allow a President to constrain or stop such an investigation–for whatever reason–violates the very fabric of our society. The President is not the law; nor can he place himself above it; nor is he the one to interpret it. Nor is he the one to decide if they can be absolved merely because they were acting on legal advice.
Obama does not want to hold those who presumably tortured prisoners to be held accountable. (According to released memos, two prisoners were “waterboarded” a total of 266 times.) President Obama has said nothing, so far, about prosecuting the lawyers who framed the Bush policy on torture.
Let us be clear here. No one is above the law. We have heard before the old argument, “They made me do it. It was my job to obey my superiors. They told me it was right and patriotic to do so.”
As far as the Bush lawyers are concerned, were they pushed to frame the policy on torture? All arguments of justification, no matter how seemingly pragmatic, become, in the final analysis, politically self-serving.
Cheney claims that if we do have an investigation, then we should hear the confessions gleaned from such torture. Setting aside for a moment the questionable veracity of such confessions–who among us would not say anything after being waterboarded even once or twice?–, torture is torture. Presumably we do not allow it. To argue torture’s effectiveness is beside the point. That kind of argument we presumably settled a long time ago. Whoever is complicit in breaking the law must be held accountable. That includes the highest officials in the land. That includes Cheney.
Obama is on a slippery slope here, and I suspect he knows it. But power is power; its allure is tempting. Presidential power is especially tempting. Justifications can always be found. “We cannot disrupt morale of an important agency. ” “We cannot divide the body politic.” “We have more important tasks at hand. “
If he yields to that kind of temptation, then he is no better than those who broke the law in the first place. He should step aside; let the investigations continue; let justice run its course.
The soul of a nation is its ideals embodied in the fabric of its laws. To ignore those laws is to risk tearing that soul asunder. If one law can be ignored, why not another….and another, and yet another?
This is not to say that justice cannot be tempered with mercy. But that decision is for the courts alone to decide–or the President if he wishes to exercise his right of pardon after the fact. But he cannot prejudge; he can act only after justice has run its course. Zelikow is exactly right when he said:
If a Republican president tried to do this, people would be apoplectic.
Let the chips fall where they may and let’s be done with it.