Glenn Greenwald writes on why Bush and his men should have to face criminal responsibility for their actions:
A Washington Post article today on the need to restore confidence in the Justice Department quotes former high-level Clinton DOJ official Robert Litt urging the new Obama administration to avoid any investigations or prosecutions of Bush lawbreaking:
Obama will have to do a careful balancing act. At a conference in Washington this week, former department criminal division chief Robert S. Litt asked that the new administration avoid fighting old battles that could be perceived as vindictive, such as seeking to prosecute government officials involved in decisions about interrogation and the gathering of domestic intelligence. Human rights groups have called for such investigations, as has House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.).
“It would not be beneficial to spend a lot of time calling people up to Congress or in front of grand juries,” Litt said. “It would really spend a lot of the bipartisan capital Obama managed to build up.”
There is a coherent way to argue against investigations and prosecutions of actions by Bush officials: one could argue that they weren’t illegal. Obviously, if one believes that, then that is conclusive on the question.
But that’s not what Litt is arguing here. Instead, his belief is that Bush officials should be protected from DOJ proceedings even if they committed crimes. And his reason for that is as petty and vapid as it is corrupt: namely, it is more important to have post-partisan harmony in our political class than it is to hold Presidents and other high officials accountable when they break the law.
… by letting criminal bygones be bygones within the Executive branch (Ford’s pardon of Nixon, the Iran-contra crimes, and now Bush lawbreaking), Presidents maintain their gentleman’s agreement that they are free to commit crimes in office — break our laws — with total impunity.
An amazing number of people — including Bush opponents — are now arguing (in comments and elsewhere) that all the Good and Important things that Barack Obama is about to do for all of us — all the Big Problems he’s about to fix — outweigh the need to subject high political officials to the rule of law. Apparently, by this reasoning, unless we agree that our highest political leaders are free to break the law with impunity, then we’ll lose out. I address this “reasoning” here.
I would also recommend that anyone who has this attitude — “oh, we have too many Big Problems now to bother with this whole “rule of law’ nonsense” — read this post from conservative Daniel Larison as well as this one from conservative Conor Friedersdorf. Both of them understand — much better than many Democrats, apparently — the intolerable consequences from allowing high political leaders to break the law because we decide there is some material benefit to be had by giving them that license.
I SO agree with Greenwald – as I’ve said before, here