July 16, 2009

Eric Holder's Day Off

It was actually two days off, but that ruins a good title. Attorney General Holder holed up in his office at the Justice Department and read the 2004 CIA Inspector General's Report on torture cover to cover (I think it's about 200 pp. long). Twice, once as "a lawyer" scanning evidence, and then just as a person, reacting emotionally. So the story goes. He "cleared his schedule" to do this, and no doubt told his secretary to "hold his calls." The Report has been called the "Holy Grail" of torture accounts, detailing not only the usual stuff about Abu Ghraib, but delving into the CIA "black sites" as well.

The first thing that occurred to me was that General Holder is already bored with his job. That happens, especially in law. Why didn't he take the thing home and read it over the weekend? Well, for now the unredacted version is still secret and the object of a FOIA dispute with Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a "watchdog" agency. So that's a good excuse to read the Report in his office.

The second thing that occurred to me is that it's kind of a flaky thing to do anyway - take two full days to read a government report twice. Does he have a staff? Are we sure he wasn't playing Tetris? Just asking.

The upshot of all this is that Holder became convinced that maybe, perhaps, depending, the Justice Department should at least think about appointing a special prosecutor to look into this whole torture thing that happened during the Bush years. It's possible that Holder was operating in that emotional state the psychiatrists call cathexis when he found religion on this issue, and the whole thing will blow over as the vivid images conjured by whatever it is he was reading (which we can't, yet) fade in his memory. Or when Prez O reminds him that all of that war criminal activity, after all, occurred in the past where it is immune from prosecution.

But maybe Holder, flake or not, will assert the traditional independence of the AG and move ahead anyway. He may recall, from law school days, that events occurring in the past are quite often the subject of criminal prosecution. Indeed, until the introduction by Obama of the concept of indefinite preventive detention (even when acquitted at trial), we usually did not impose punishment now on the basis of what might or might not happen in the future. That is, criminal law punished criminals for things they had already done, which implies at least that those things had been done in the past.

Assuming that AG Holder can clear the hurdle of this logical conundrum and find a way around the future-only orientation of law enforcement under the Obama Administration, the question then becomes: should he do it? Should people be prosecuted for torturing other people?

One reason to say yes is that Ronald Reagan signed a treaty called the Convention Against Torture which requires the signatory nations to investigate and prosecute if appropriate whenever credible evidence appears that torture has been committed. Since Dick Cheney goes on talk shows every other day to confirm that he was in on the ground floor of an elaborate torture program, this threshold has been crossed. Treaties, after all, are the Supreme Law of the Land, taking precedence over purely domestic statutes where any inconsistency appears. So sayeth The Constitution. Since Dick keeps giving us credible evidence, failing to investigate and prosecute in the face of his constant confessions puts AG Holder and Prez O in a somewhat dicey situation. If they violate the Convention, they are not attending to their duty to ensure that the nation's laws are faithfully executed; that is, they are violating their oaths of office, an impeachable offense.

So that reason is no good. Impeachment is off the table, we all know that. I was just being a purist again, for some reason. There is no more chance of Obama being impeached over this than there is of Bush being prosecuted for war crimes - even though, and here's an often overlooked point, the "torture regime" wasn't really about waterboarding and stress positions. It's more about the approximately 134 detainees who died in U.S. custody, of which more than 30 have been classified as homicides. That's why, I think, Cheney talks about waterboarding so much. We didn't kill anyone with waterboarding. We killed them by beating them to death, asphyxiating them, and allowing them to die of exposure, which is a very different thing, and a thing that's harder for Rush Limbaugh to dismiss as a fraternity prank. Maybe that's in the IG Report, and it's perhaps one of the reasons that Obama doesn't want the report made public, defying court orders to release it. If it turns out that torture was actually more about murder than "simulated drowning" or "stress positions," the populace, even the American populace, could grow restive.

Although I doubt it, and so do you. We're sort of beyond all that now - murder, schmurder - who cares? Which also eliminates Reason #2: our concern for "our image in the world." That one is trotted out endlessly by left-leaning do-gooders. The only reason it's brought up is for internal politics, not because we actually care. Oh my, what will the world think if we do nothing? For crying out loud, that train has left the station. We're the home of the Wall Street Banksters, the charlatans and grifters who crashed the world economy by selling fraudulent securities, and then were bailed out by this same government which we now expect to work itself into a froth about "harsh interrogation." Even though, as pointed out, all these dead Muslims died in the past, not in the future, where our focus must be.

I think Eric Holder will get over it. He needs a break from work, that's all. An office vacation is obviously not enough. Head on up to Martha's Vineyard with Barack and Michelle next month for a few weeks, kick back, drink a few cold ones, swim in the Gulf Stream, go to parties, refresh yourself. Then go back and do something important, like seizing a Colombian drug shipment scheduled sometime in the future.

1 comment:

  1. hammerud3:06 PM

    "We're sort of beyond all that now - murder, schmurder - who cares?" You're probably right about this. I must say, however, that I do find it interesting that the left, for the most part, expresses such obvious concern about some of these things (and, by the way, I think rightly so); and yet, somehow are able to rationalize abortion, and even partial birth abortion with the knowledge of what that entails. It would be nice if those who are so adept in pointing out our moral flaws had some credibility. You're right, "Murder, schmurder - who cares?" On either side.