Friday, January 9, 2009 Dodges Top Question

Today responded to the second round of voting in Open for Questions. The question we've been following and endorsing, “Will you appoint a Special Prosecutor — ideally Patrick Fitzgerald — to independently investigate the gravest crimes of the Bush Administration, including torture and warrantless wiretapping,” posted by Bob Fertik of New York, who runs the website, garnered the most votes but was not addressed in the video response.

Our question is listed below the video response under the heading "Previously Addressed Questions."
These popular questions have been answered previously by top officials or in the prior edition of “Open for Questions.”
Vice President-elect Biden, 12/21/08: “[T]he questions of whether or not a criminal act has been committed or a very, very, very bad judgment has been engaged in is—is something the Justice Department decides. Barack Obama and I are—President-elect Obama and I are not sitting thinking about the past. We’re focusing on the future… I’m not ruling [prosecution] in and not ruling it out. I just think we should look forward. I think we should be looking forward, not backwards.”
Not very satisfying, is it? Pretty well skirts the issue. Not ruling it in or out.

Ari Melber wrote yesterday in The Nation that "ignoring the question that came in first out of 74,000 would turn this exercise into a farce. A terse, evasive answer would be similarly unacceptable." The answer that has been given seems pretty darned terse and evasive to me, and the number one question has been all but ignored, so far anyway. We're definitely skirting the edges of farce territory.

"[This is] something the justice department decides" sounds a lot like, "Hey! It's not up to us! It's up to those other guys over there!" The other guys in this case are what Obama has referred to as "my justice department and my attorney general." Doesn't sound very other to me. It's more like a pretty feeble attempt to pass the buck.

And "looking forward, not backwards" is eerily reminiscent of what Sarah Palin said to Biden in the vice presidential debate: "For a ticket that wants to talk about change and looking into the future, there's just too much finger-pointing backwards to ever make us believe that that's where you're going." (I can't believe I'm actually quoting Sarah Palin.) Biden's response? "Past is prologue."

Vice President-elect Biden, if past is prologue, as you so correctly stated in the vice-presidential debate, what would a failure to investigate the crimes of the previous administration say about the incoming one? To what future is that past prologue? How would not addressing the crimes of the Bush administration signal a break from the past?

Note that Biden's statement, which is given as the response to our question, was made after Dick Cheney admitted on national television on December 15, 2008, that he sanctioned torture (waterboarding).

In April 2008, Philadelphia journalist Will Bunch asked Obama "whether an Obama administration would seek to prosecute officials of a former Bush administration on the revelations that they greenlighted torture, or for other potential crimes that took place in the White House."
Obama said that as president he would indeed ask his new Attorney General and his deputies to "immediately review the information that's already there" and determine if an inquiry is warranted -- but he also tread carefully on the issue, in line with his reputation for seeking to bridge the partisan divide. He worried that such a probe could be spun as "a partisan witch hunt." However, he said that equation changes if there was willful criminality, because "nobody is above the law." (emphasis mine)
Here there appears to be more of a connection between the administration and the justice department. And since then, during an interview with Jonathan Karl of ABC News, Dick Cheney said, "I supported it," referring to waterboarding, which is widely considered to be torture. There you have it, Mr. President-elect; if that's not willful criminality, I don't know what is.

Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich), chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told Rachel Maddow of MSNBC that this amounted to Cheney condoning torture. This is hardly "very, very, very bad judgment." This is a baldfaced admission, on national television no less, to having committed a war crime.

Although President-elect Obama may consider a pursuit of justice on this scale to be politically inexpedient, not pursuing this will signal that his administration does not have the political will to break with the past as we were encouraged to hope during the course of the campaign. And if members of the Obama administration don't give us accountability where the Bushies are concerned, how accountable will they themselves be?

Now is the time for principle, courage, and conviction, Mr. Obama. Now is not the time to be guided by political expediency and a desire to pursue "post-partisan politics" rather than the Rule of Law. This is way bigger than politics, and if you don't believe that, then you're not the man you told us you were when we elected you.


  1. Perhaps President-elect Obama is waiting until after he is sworn in. I am nervous about this transition and more than a little eager to keep hope alive.

  2. I really, really hope you're right, and I think it's critical for us to keep the pressure on. I share your nervousness about the transition, and I do remain hopeful--guardedly so--but also vigilant and adamant about what will really ameliorate the heinous disregard for the Rule of Law by the Bush Administration.

  3. That is just unbelievable that they ignored the number one question. UN. BE. LIEVE. AB. LE!

  4. I'm with you, Kat. I'm not surprised, but very disappointed. :-(

    There's a little tiny voice in my head that's saying, "But maybe they're just holding their cards very close to their chest. Maybe they want the Bushies to think they're not going to do anything about it. Maybe they'll come through after all."

    Maybe baby. I hope the little voice is right. My inner cynic is cocking an eyebrow.