The debate is beginning on investigating the Bush administration for torture. It seems to me that this is a no-brainer, and I am amazed at the hysterical conservative reaction that this will embolden the terrorists or divide the country. Perhaps the worst GOP cliche is that we will be ‘looking backward when we need to look to the future.’ Gimme a break. Accountability, which includes investigation where suspicion merits, is pretty basic in a democracy.
If the law was broken, there needs to be an investigation and possible prosecution. That is legally required. But of course, the politics of it are far more determinative of whether an investigation will happen.
1. If the Bush people have done nothing wrong, then they have nothing to fear. As Al Haig said to Nixon, an investigation can only prove that Dean is wrong, correct? (Ooops!) Indeed, an investigation will give the Bushies a chance to end this thing once and for all and defend their actions openly. Ex-DCI Hayden has already begun this by saying that torture did save US lives. We need to have this debate, in order to set the historical record straight and to decide if our values will permit torture if/when its efficacious.
2. Transparency and oversight are important. The country is far better off for things like the Watergate investigation or the Church committee. Investigating possible abuses of power so as to avoid them in the future is a fundamental difference between open and closed societies. It is also a major part of the balance of power. Congressional investigations of possible executive malfeasance are an important oversight tool. Having these debates out in public is good for the republic. It keeps government honest and insures the citizenry is informed of what occurs in their name, and hopefully encourages them to participate more. It is a healthy exercise that we do this when called for. It keeps us vigilant over our politics.
3. Walt makes the obvious and excellent point that the US has pushed for investigations and indictments of war criminals in places like the Balkans, Iraq, and Africa. If we brush this under the carpet, it will be far more difficult for the US to advocate for war crimes prosecutions in the future. The hypocrisy is so rank and obvious. To not investigate will damage the soft power and US reputation that Obama wants so much to restore and utilize.