Today Glenn Greenwald talks again about what to do about the numerous laws and treaties that were broken by the Bush administration over their eight years in power. Greenwald (from what I can gather) wants full investigations, leading up to criminal prosecutions for everyone – from Bush all the way down to a lowly Army Private. While I dream of the day George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Alberto Gonzalez and a lot of other people are behind bars, I’m not sure going after everyone is the way to go. We would spend hundreds of millions of dollars (that probably don’t even exist) of our tax money, but the better lawyers will be on the defense side. If we waste years trying to prosecute these people, and in the end the only people who go to jail are a few 25 year olds from Kansas who thought they were doing what is right, we will be in an even worse position than we are now. Greenwald makes a criticism of Joe Conason:
On Friday in Salon, Joe Conason argued that there should be no criminal investigations of any kind for Bush officials “who authorized torture or other outrages in the ‘war on terror’.” Instead, Conason suggests that there be a presidential commission created that is “purely investigative,” and Obama should “promis[e] a complete pardon to anyone who testifies fully, honestly and publicly.” So, under this proposal, not only would we adopt an absolute bar against prosecuting war criminals and other Bush administration felons, we would go in the other direction and pardon them from any criminal liability of any kind.
I don’t know if Greenwald is misunderstanding Conason or if Conason himself is confused and would be willing to pardon anyone – including Rumsfeld or Bush – who admits to what they did. I think both of these men are wrong- we should neither go after every single person involved nor pardon everyone who tells the truth. My opinion is that we should follow the Truth and Reconciliation Committee (or at least follow the TRC as I understand it; which isn’t very great). Under no circumstance should we even entertain the idea of pardoning the top tier people- Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Rice, etc. but the only way there is a chance in proving their guilt is if we offer immunity to lower-tier people who are willing to admit what they did and tell the truth. This means, if someone not on the highest level is willing to sit in a courtroom and spill everything (s)he did, while showing at least some remorse for his or her actions, then they get immunity. I would be willing to bet that there would be dozens – if not hundreds – of people coming forward to take advantage of this.
This is all a moot point however because the Obama administration (perhaps out of fear of what will happen to them in 4 or 8 years) has repeatedly said that they will not go after anyone for any kind of war crime charges (not only that, but they are actually sticking up for a number of people from the Bush administration). Why is Obama ignoring the law and his obligation as president? Because he is the bridge building, bipartisan, 21st century Abe Lincoln. I understand the need to work with the opposition, I understand that if we have a country of “us and them” we are doomed to fail, but there comes a certain point where you have to draw the line. When the Allied forces defeated the Nazi army, did they appoint a new government that would work with old Nazis? When the US took out the government of Saddam Hussein did they have a meeting with all the old Ba’ath members to see how bridges could be built? No, of course not. While it is necessary for Obama and the Democrats to work with Congressional Republicans in order to have a less divided country, it is not necessary to protect war criminals.