September 29th, 2008
At Talking Points Memo, the TPMCafe is featuring a discussion of Jane Mayer’s The Dark Side. In addition to Mayer, participants include Scott Horton, Spencer Ackerman, Marty Lederman, Christopher Hitchens, ad many others. Here is Jane’s foirst contribution:
The Unmentionable Question
By Jane Mayer
Welcome to all who are part of this discussion – please let it rip.
I wanted to start by bringing up the unmentionable question in the current presidential campaign, where both candidates are avowedly against the Bush Administration’s embrace of torture and lesser cruelties in the “war-on-terror.” While both McCain and Obama have spoken out against torture, neither has spelled out what he plans to do about holding Bush Administration officials accountable who may have committed or authorized crimes. Understandably, this is a toxic subject, reeking of political payback. But I have personally interviewed CIA officers who have said they refused to partake in the “enhanced interrogation” program because they feared that eventually it would lead to criminal charges. They had seen this happen before, and wanted nothing to do with it, even if it meant in some instances, leaving the CIA. The threat of prosecution clearly acted as a deterrent. My question is what happens if there is no accountability for America’s first program of state-authorized torture? Does it send a green light to torture again when the next attack takes place? Is it an invitation to other forms of lawlessness by the U.S. Government? But, if top officials of the Bush Administration who were acting in what they believed to be the best interests of the country’s security, are now prosecuted, is that just? Will the public support it? Particularly if Obama is elected, wont this become exhibit A that the Democrats are soft on terrorism, and members of the “Blame-America-First” Club?
Stewart Taylor has urged a truth commission rather than criminal prosecutions. Is this likely? Will it do any good? Or is it more likely that President Bush will simply pardon everyone who could conceivably be criminally liable in connection with this program before he leaves office, and then sweep the whole sordid episode under the rug? Why not?
So–on a morning when accountability seems to have evaporated in the financial world – I’d like to know what we do about accountability at the top of our government for authorizing the abuse- and in some cases the killing of U.S.-held prisoners, all of which were criminal until the day before 9/11. Any thoughts?
(Those who are uncertain about the connection between U.S.-policy and the abuse, and even deaths that resulted from it, should tune in tonight to HBO, which is airing for the first time, the Oscar-winning documentary on torture, Taxi to the Dark Side.)