In a must-read post, Dan Froomkin takes on recent attempts by OG ‘eventheliberal’ Michael Kinsley and pseudo-contrarian Slate guru Jacob Weisberg to whitewash the Bush Admin’s torture record by arguing that “the nation’s collective guilt for torture is so great that prosecution is a cop-out.”
Froomkin points out the elephant in the room–and it’s wearing a press pass:
While it’s true that the public’s outrage over torture has been a long time coming, one reason for that is the media’s sporadic and listless coverage of the issue. Yes, there were some extraordinary examples of investigative reporting we can point to, but other news outlets generally didn’t pick up these exclusives. Nobody set up a torture beat, to hammer away daily at what history I think will show was one of the major stories of the decade. Heck, as Weisberg himself points out, some of his colleagues were actually cheerleaders for torture. By failing to return to the story again and again — with palpable outrage — I think the media actually normalized torture. We had an obligation to shout this story from the rooftops, day and night. But instead we lulled the public into complacency.
Wait, you mean the corporate media may have collectively (and quite willingly) played the role of useful idiot in the tragicomic post-9/11 GWOT farce put on by the Bush-Cheney Review? NO WAIS, DUDE!
Secondly, while it’s certainly worth exploring why any number of people were either actively or passively complicit in our torture regime — and I’m all for some national self-flagellation here — that has nothing to do with whether senior administration officials willfully broke the law, and whether they should be held accountable. It doesn’t change the law.
Froomkin’s case for accountability has since been inadvertently and unintentionally bolstered by–wait for it–former Bush AG John Ashcroft (h/t Think Progress):
The government must hold accountable any individuals who acted illegally in this financial meltdown, while preserving the viability of the companies that received bailout funds or stimulus money. Certainly, we should demand justice. But we must all remember that justice is a value, the adherence to which includes seeking the best outcome for the American people. In some cases it will be the punishing of bad actors. In other cases it may involve heavy corporate fines or operating under a carefully tailored agreement.
Ok, so Ashcroft is talking about the financial meltdown, not the widespread erosion of human rights and the complete subversion of the rule of law that occurred under, um, his watch.
Still, as Jack Balkin notes, the principle is universal:
According to this same logic, the government should demand a full accounting of what Bush Administration officials did and it should institute new methods for monitoring and preventing abuses in the future. It should find ways to hold individuals who broke the law accountable without jeopardizing our existing national security. What the government should not do is what Attorney General Ashcroft argues against in the financial context– to sweep illegal actions under the rug or to go easy on the individuals who broke the law because they work for the federal government.
Sen. Chris Dodd underscores the bottom line:
[N]ot to prosecute people or pursue them when these acts have occurred is, in a sense, to invite it again in some future administration.
Special prosecutor NAO.