Sunday, November 16, 2008

The President: Intelligent Writing on Terror Pardons

Tim Shipman of the Telegraph (UK) has provided what is probably the single best written article on the topic on the possibility of Bush pardons related to the War on Terror. For starters, you could read three dozen articles on the topic and never see this:

Senior intelligence officers are lobbying the outgoing president to look after the men and women who could face charges for following his orders in the war on terrorism. Many fear that Barack Obama, who has pledged to close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp and put an end to the policy of extraordinary rendition, could launch a legal witch hunt against those who oversaw the policies after he is sworn in on Jan 20. Most vulnerable are US intelligence officers who took part in intensive interrogations against terrorist suspects, using techniques including water boarding, which many believe crossed the line into torture.
The passage makes it plain that the concern should not be so much whether or not Bush will grant such pardons as it should be whether or not the incoming administration intends to launch HUAC-like show "investigations" over differences in policy (the P-word you rarely see in scare scenario articles that are so fashionable of late). The extraordinary, unprecedented behavior would not be the pardon so much as it would be the prosecution of a vast pool of individuals from the previous administration over policy differences - policies which Obama would have the power to modify or reverse in an instant. And what a great thing for the Obama administration to be noted for! Imagine what an impression will be made if the vicious dragnet somehow misses and/or spares Democratic members of Congress who have been briefed on such matters from day one? What did they know? And when did they know it?

Shipman also notes that, far from blocking sincere investigatory efforts, preemptive blanket pardons would "make it easier for the incoming administration to find out exactly what went on, the goal of many who want to prevent repetition of what they view as abuses." As one ex-CIA official puts it, "If you want people to tell the truth, the best way would be to give them legal guarantees. A pardon is not the only way you can do that."

Of course, those individuals with different goals are going to be sorely disappointed by any facilitation of efforts to merely get to the truth. Take James Ross, for example, the "legal and policy director for Human Rights Watch." His rhetoric reveals a different set of goals:
"It would be the first pre-emptive pardon in US history for war crimes. Such a pardon might seek to protect low-level government officials who relied on legally dubious Justice Department memos on interrogations. But it would also provide blanket immunity to senior administration officials who bear criminal responsibility for their role in drafting, orchestrating and implementing a US government torture programme."
Ross is not burdened by the complexity of policy, interpretation of statutes or presidential transition and will not let the truth muddle up his sensational search for "criminal responsibility" for "war crimes." See Telegraph article here.

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