Mike Kinsley raises the point that our political system reelected George Bush in 2004 after the fact of waterboarding had been public, and suggests that culpability is more broadly shared than would be indicated by prosecutions of a few Bush officials.
He concludes, “Prosecuting a few former government officials for their role in putting our country into the torture business would not serve justice or historical memory. It would just let the real culprits off the hook.”
Kinsley doesn’t say so, but perhaps our anger now is not just about what was done in our name, but also about our regret that we did not stand up stronger against the Bush administration.
But I think Kinsley’s analysis ignores the mendacious bullying engineered by Karl Rove and executed by George Bush, Dick Cheney, and almost the whole Republican party, whereby any critical discussion of their policies — or even helpful policy innovation — was turned into an accusation that Democrats are unpatriotic.
Democrats may have not always been as courageous as they should have been, but surviving to fight another day is not always the wrong decision.
Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rove, Rice and the rest bear culpability for poisoning the political system to continue their rule and facilitate the continuation of their policies, in addition to the specific culpability for the policies. Scooter Libby is a poster boy for this.
As suggested in an earlier post, I am personally withholding judgment on exactly who if anyone should be prosecuted for what, and I think it makes sense for us as a society to do so also while a process goes forward through which we can digest all the aspects and ramifications of what actually happened and where responsibility lies.
At some point during that process, it will be possible to more reasonably discuss the proper role of prosecutions in vindicating the rule of law and of deterring future participation in similar bad acts in a future administration. I am personally skeptical that the right conclusion will be that no sanctions against individuals are indicated.
I suspect that professional sanctions against the lawyers and doctors and psychologists involved will play a role. I doubt the right answer will be for the political system to take consideration of prosecutions off the table. Engendering a concern for legal jeopardy for illegal actions is an important system value. A solution will need to be found to prevent tendentious lawyers responsive to high-level political figures from issuing get-out-of-jail free cards.
Update I agree with Mark’s comparative analysis of whom to prosecute in the update to this post, which I only just saw.