Friday, April 17, 2009

Obama and the Bush torture memos

This week, the Government released 4 Bush-era "torture" memos - legal advice from the Justice Department lawyers authorizing torture techniques to be used on GWoT detainees.  President Obama apparently suggested a "forget and move on" policy, angering many on the Left.  Dahlia Lithwick, as always, has a great read on this issue.  Lithwick quotes President Obama:
This is a time for reflection, not retribution. I respect the strong views and emotions that these issues evoke. We have been through a dark and painful chapter in our history. But at a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past. Our national greatness is embedded in America's ability to right its course in concert with our core values, and to move forward with confidence.
Emphasis added by me.  Lithwick also quotes Keith Olbermann:
This country has never 'moved forward with confidence' without first cleansing itself of its mistaken past. In point of fact, every effort to merely draw a line in the sand and declare the past dead has served only to keep the past alive and often to strengthen it.
Lithwick observes that the 3 memos that came out in 2005 "reinstated the torture regime Bradbury's predecessor, Jack Goldsmith, withdrew in 2004 for being "sloppily reasoned" and "legally flawed"" precisely because the earlier torture memo did not result in any penalty.

This take from Lithwick is precisely the reaction I had to President Obama's "forget and move on" suggestion.  The entire premise of law-and-order - penalizing people for crimes they commit - is not just punishment, but also deterrence of future criminal acts.  Not that it stops many criminals, but still.  So is President Obama saying we should not take criminals - of any kind, white collar lawyers, blue collar commoners - to task?  If someone kills 20 people, let's try to put it behind us and move on?

All this fulminating may well come to nought, however.  As Lithwick observes, it may not even be possible to prosecute either the lawyers who gave this bad "torture is legal" advice or the actual people who tortured - because the former did not torture, and the latter were assured by their superiors that what they were doing was legal!  And yet... as Lithwick reiterates: "the real risk of getting over it is the possibility that it happens all over again."

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