Friday, May 01, 2009


President Obama wants the country to focus on the future, but there are a lot of voices who want the Bush torturers investigated and prosecuted. Some of this is fixation on the past--clinging to habits of obsession with the Bushites and rightist GOPers deepened over 8 years, and in some cases become part of identities--but there are also legitimate concerns over the rule of law and the necessity of judgment in order to make recurrences harder in any future administration.

And repulsion and frustration is a natural and worthwhile tortured response to recent revelations of the official sanction and frequency of torture in the Bush years, especially since much of that torture seemed not to be even an attempt to get information but an attempt to create the information the Bushites wanted: a connection between 9/11 and Iraq.

The Obama administration is not closing the door to investigation. And there are good reasons for not making this a public priority. But there may be ways to invesitgate this without making it a public spectacle. There are in fact ongoing investigations now--the Senate Armed Services Committee already issued its report and the Intelligence Committee is working on theirs. When that one comes out, and considering what it is likely to find, it would then be appropriate for the President to appoint a three judge panel to investigate criminal behavior and report to the Justice Department.

A panel rather than a single special prosecutor would be less likely to turn this into a circus that would distract too much from the rational debates needed on health care and the Climate Crisis for legislation this year. Eventually a catharsis will be needed on torture, but the most important action in the short term has been taken: the United States is out of the torture business.

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