In the Financial Times, Clive Crook wonders why President Obama is so keen on going after the Bush Administration on the “torture” issue:
Common sense may tell you waterboarding is torture, but the law is less clear-cut. Congress should make waterboarding a crime, for the reasons I have stated, and it has had many chances before and since 9/11 to do so. The fact is, it has chosen not to. Some of those in Congress now calling for prosecutions, including Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House, were briefed about these methods in the panic-stricken aftermath of 9/11 and offered no objection.
Politically, what Obama is doing is pandering to the MoveOn.org left. Obama’s pragmatism is running against the blood lust on the left to get back at the Bush Administration any way they can. The left wants a kangaroo court to put on a nice show trial, then send the objects of their unbridled hatred to jail—or worse. The irrational hatred of the Bush Administration has not gone away with the left, even though the Bush Administration is gone.
Substantively, Obama is being foolish. For one, the idea that there was some kind of torture “regime” with tentacles spreading from GTMO to Abu Ghraib would never stand up to serious scrutiny, because their was no such regime. Prosecuting the Bush Administration for acts like waterboarding would be a blatantly unconstitutional ex post facto prosecution, as Congress had the opportunity to make the practices illegal but did not do so. Moreover, the majority of Americans don’t feel a great deal of outrage over waterboarding someone like Khalid Sheikh Mohammad—especially since there is likely strong, if not incontrovertible, evidence that doing so saved many American lives. In a country where a show like 24 is popular, the idea that people are going to give much care to the “civil rights” of one of the masterminds of the September 11 atrocity is not a very good bet.
Congress should not be so quick to want either prosecutions or a “Truth Commission”—Congressional leaders knew exactly what was being done, and they signed off on it. Speaker Pelosi knew what was being done, and said nothing. The outrage from Congress is nothing less than pure hypocrisy and political payback.
In the end, this is about politics and nothing but. Obama had taken a reasonable and pragmatic response to this issue. Now, the radical left is pushing him further and further towards a politically unsustainable course. Playing politics with national security does not play well outside of the Beltway, especially when this country faces very real and much more immediate crises. Obama should, to borrow a term, move on. What was done in the aftermath of September 11 was done to protect this country and was approved be the same members of Congress who now want to seek a kangaroo court to prosecute crimes they failed to make crimes when they had the chance. Obama has exercised his prerogative to prevent it from happening again under his watch. If the left wants to regard those actions with shame, let them. But this country deserves better than to have do deal with a political circus when there is work to be done. The Democrats will have to lead rather than try to enact their partisan vengeance, and Obama should make it clear that his concern is on the future rather than the past. Let history pass judgment, not partisans.