Should Bush Administration officials be prosecuted for the alleged torture of terror suspects after 9/11? Momentum for prosecution seems to be building.
A Spanish magistrate has ordered an investigation to see if charges are merited against American officials who laid the legal groundwork for "enhanced interrogation" of terror suspects. And a newly leaked report from the International Red Cross concludes that terrorists in American custody were tortured and urges "steps to punish the perpetrators, where appropriate, and to prevent such abuses from happening again."
Should prosecutions happen? Or would that criminalize policy differences in the fight against terror? Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, debate the topic.
Investigation and prosecution of Bush-era officials — accompanied by their conviction or exoneration — would be painful and probably messy. There would undoubtedly be a political firestorm. It is nonetheless the right thing to do.
Why? Because torture has long been illegal under both international and domestic law. There are no exceptions made for torturing bad guys, no matter how bad they may be. If we turn our backs on those allegations for political convenience or to avoid a mess, we’ve turned our back on one of America’s founding principles: The rule of law.
What’s on the line? Our credibility and our longstanding moral leadership in the world. If we brush aside credible allegations of war crimes — and the International Red Cross is no fly-by-night bleeding-heart lefty organization; its job is to look into these matters on behalf of the international community — then we forfeit the moral high ground we have long claimed on human rights matters. "Torture for me, but not for thee" is not going to cut it when we confront two-bit dictators about their crimes against humanity.
Republican critics say the torture of terrorists helped save America from attacks. The evidence indicates otherwise — and, in fact, images of Abu Ghraib helped intensify the Iraqi insurgency that has killed so many Americans.
The critics say prosecutions of Bush Administration officials would "criminalize policy differences." That’s not true. Instead, a fair process would re-affirm two things that we’ve always known and proclaimed to be correct: Torture is against the law. And nobody — not even the president, nor his top aides — is above the law.
Prosecuting former Bush administration officials would undoubtedly satisfy opponents of the war and everyone who spent the past eight years loathing George W. Bush. But political show trials or some sort of "truth and reconciliation commission" to probe the past administration’s alleged misdeeds wouldn’t mollify America’s enemies. (How quickly we forget the perpetrators of Abu Ghraib were prosecuted and punished.) And it certainly wouldn’t be good for the country.
It’s worth noting that the Bush administration officials under investigation by a Spanish court weren’t working in the Pentagon or issuing orders to men in the field. They were lawyers who wrote memos that shaped policy — in other words, advisers whose policy recommendations would in fact be criminalized.
As for restoring America’s credibility and longstanding moral leadership, that’s not nearly so important as maintaining U.S. sovereignty and security. Self-defense is a natural right of individuals and of sovereign nations. How we defend ourselves is a question for the American people to decide, and not for some Spanish judge or European Union bureaucrat to second guess.
Ah, but doesn’t the United States regularly condemn human rights violations and even prosecute the violators? Yes. Maybe the lesson here is that the United States shouldn’t be in the business of denouncing certain tin pot dictators while coddling others.
Perhaps the United States would have a better chance of regaining the "moral high ground" by not meddling in the affairs of nations that have no direct bearing on our national interests. And perhaps the next time we fight a war, we should have a clear strategy for winning the peace.
(Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis blog daily at http://www.infinitemonkeysblog.com and http://politics.pwblogs.com/.)