Friday, July 18, 2008

Democrats eager for retroactive immunity

Previously I posted a Chicago Tribune editorial which accused the democrats of cowardice in voting for the new FISA guidelines which granted retroactive immunity to BOTH the telecos AND the White House. While John Russonello's arguments for cowardice are compelling, I find Glen Greenwald's arguments that the democratic votes for retroactive immunity were based on complicity with the white house in committing war crimes and violating the U.S. constitution to be completely convincing.

Greenwald's piece cites an interview in Harper's conducted by Scott Horton of Jane Mayer, author of The Dark Side

[I]nside the White House there [had] been growing fear of criminal prosecution, particularly after the Supreme Court ruled in the Hamdan case that the Geneva Conventions applied to the treatment of the detainees,” ... it was this fear that led the White House to demand (and, of course, receive) immunity for past interrogation crimes as part of the Military Commissions Act of 2006. But Mayer noted one important political impediment to holding Bush officials accountable for their illegal torture program:

An additional complicating factor is that key members of Congress sanctioned this program, so many of those who might ordinarily be counted on to lead the charge are themselves compromised.

As we witness not just Republicans, but also Democrats in Congress, acting repeatedly to immunize executive branch lawbreaking and to obstruct investigations, it’s vital to keep that fact in mind. With regard to illegal Bush programs of torture and eavesdropping, key Congressional Democrats were contemporaneously briefed on what the administration was doing (albeit, in fairness, often in unspecific ways). The fact that they did nothing to stop that illegality, and often explicitly approved of it, obviously incentivizes them to block any investigations or judicial proceedings into those illegal programs.

Greenwald cites a Washington Post article which notes that Nancy Pelosi was among four members of congress given a "virtual" tour of CIA's detention sites and techniques. Not only did none of that small bipartisan complain about the torture techniques at that time, at least two of them urged the CIA to push harder.

So ... is it any wonder impeachment was long ago taken off the table? Or is it any wonder that Barak Obama would choose to NOT risk throwing House Speaker Pelosi under the bus, because to do so would damage the democratic brand? How much lower can the republican brand sink at the present time? Not much, really. And at this juncture, conventional wisdom sees democrats making significant gains in the House, the Senate, and winning the Presidency. But if leading democrats are complicit IN THE WAR CRIMES, then the value of being a dem (at the present time) is tarnished at a minimum.

Then too, Pelosi is a D.C. democratic power center, with a constituency of politicians. Far better to make nice to them than to risk exposing their complicity in WAR CRIMES.

In addition, democrats Jay Rockefellar and Jane Harman (at that time, chair of the Department of Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intellegince) were briefed on the interrogation program. Harman subsequently wrote a letter of concern asking if the enhanced interrogation techniques had been approved by the president.

From Scott Horton's interview with Jane Mayer:

In White House meetings, Cheney warned that if they transferred the CIA’s prisoners to Guantanamo, “people will want to know where they have been—and what we’ve been doing with them.” Alberto Gonzales, a source said, “scared” everyone about the possibility of war crimes prosecutions. It was on their minds.

An administration whose reelection campaign strategy was based on scaring the American public would be scared, VERY concerned about war crimes prosecutions. And about perjury -- remember, neither Cheney nor Bush swore under oath when they were jointly interviewed during the Valeria Plame investigation.

Greenwald's concluding paragraphs:

So, of course key Congressional Democrats who were made aware of these illegal torture and surveillance programs are going to protect the Bush administration and other lawbreakers. If you were Jay Rockfeller or Nancy Pelosi, would you want there to be investigations and prosecutions for torture programs that, to one degree or another, you knew about? If you were Jane Harman, wouldn’t you be extremely eager to put a stop to judicial proceedings that were likely to result in a finding that surveillance programs that you knew about, approved of, and helped to conceal were illegal and unconstitutional?

When President Bush and Vice President Cheney celebrated the signing of the new FISA bill at the White House along with Jay Rockefeller, Steny Hoyer and Jane Harman (see the wonderful photos here), they weren’t just celebrating with the political officials who helped protect them from consequences for illegal acts. They were celebrating with those who were participants in those acts, and who were therefore just as eager for immunity and an end to judicial proceedings as Bush officials themselves.