Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) has written a letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey urging him to appoint an independent council to investigate actions taken by Vice President Dick Cheney, Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and other senior level administration officials in regard to the torture of prisoners in U.S. custody.
Rep. Nadler cites Vice President Cheney's recent interview with ABC News and Cheney's frank admission to directly approving the waterboarding of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad as evidence of the Administration's participation in approving tactics that are against the law. Rep. Nadler states in his letter:
The Vice President's public admission that he was "aware of the program, certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared" is deeply disturbing. It implicates the Vice President in this activity which appears to have been a direct violation of our criminal laws against the use of torture. Similarly, a recent report issued by the Senate Armed Services Committee found that "Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques for use at Guantanamo Bay was a direct cause of detainee abuse there." Additional evidence shows that other top officials also were involved in authorizing similar activities.
Not only did Cheney admit to his role in approving such policies as stated above, but, as Nadler points out, the Senate Armed Services Committee recently issued a report that found Administration officials directly responsible for the abuse of detainees in U.S. custody. I recently wrote about this bi-partisan report and will reemphasize that this report is damning evidence that the Administration not only approved policies of torture, but lied about it when the abuses at Abu Ghraib were exposed.
In addition to Nadler's letter, he appeared on Democracy Now! and emphasized some very basic points that I, and others, have been making:
And the morality of this aside, you cannot have high officials deliberately break the law without accountability. The Vice President, on that interview we saw a few minutes ago, talked about the oath of office that the President, the Vice President, others take, and that is to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. You are not preserving it, and you are not defending it; you are, in fact, perverting it, if you deliberately break the law, which is the supreme law of the land pursuant to the Constitution. It is imperative, if the United States is to remain a country of laws and not men,
that people who break the laws be held accountable.
This is very important and very fundamental to the operation of the United States. This country is a country of laws and not men, or in other words, no one should be above the law. When it continues to become increasingly clear that elected officials at the highest levels of government have committed serious crimes, there should be no reason why an independent panel shouldn't look into said crimes. As I have also written about in recent days, a distinction must also be made between political accountability and accountability to the law. Nadler touches on this point in his interview:
...there are things that it is imperative that the Obama administration, when it takes office, and the Congress, in January, take steps to hold officials accountable for violations of law, and really, not because we want vengeance and not because we want to be vindictive of what happened, but because holding people to the law and making them go through a legal process of proving guilt or innocence is the only way that you can minimize the likelihood of recurrence of law breaking and maintain the United States as a democratic country.
Those who often raise the argument that we should "move on to unite the country" and "not hold political grudges" are wrongly applying their formula for political accountability into the realm of criminal accountability. When laws are broken, there is a need for investigations and charges to be brought that apply to the crimes committed. It does not make any sense, or deter future political leaders from lawbreaking, if we chalk up the violation of laws to "political disagreements" or "political difference". This is the same disparity that I wrote about in discussing the response of some in Politico's "Arena" forum recently. I will revisit Maurice Carroll's response to reiterate the point:
Is it a good idea for a new administration to look for prosecutable crimes by the old administration? Even if their opinion is that there WERE crimes? By and large, the answer is no. Even if the true believers (and the true-believer editorial writers) are pestering the Obama administration to do it. One of the strengths of the American political system is that it's not a blood sport. We disagree without looking to put the other guys in jail. Which is a longish way of saying: There'll be a new slate. Shouldn't we wipe the old slate clean?
Carroll is not alone in this viewpoint, a viewpoint that encourages us not to investigate an outgoing administration EVEN IF there is a belief that crimes WERE committed. Carroll justifies this viewpoint by stating that "we disagree without looking to put the other guys in jail" and that this is "one of the strengths of the American political system." This is an absurd statement that equates political difference with accountability to laws and sadly, it is this narrative that is often repeated the loudest during these recent discussions about investigation of Bush Administration Officials. It mischaracterizes the argument of those who are calling for accountability to the rule of law into an argument being put forth by mere political opponents.
Rep. Nadler is not the first who has called for the investigation of Bush Administration officials for lawbreaking and he is certain to not be the last. There have been some rumors that President Bush has plans to pre-pardon members of his Administration before January 20 to avoid potential prosecution, but at this point it remains to be seen if an Obama Administration would put forth such an investigation. There is certain to be more on this issue between now and Inauguration Day.