Prosecute Bush and Cheney for War Crimes

If, as seems likely, the trail leads to former Pres. George W Bush and former Vice Pres. Dick Cheney, they should be indicted and tried for war crimes.

The ugly little, widely known, but unspoken secret is finally out. Throughout the Bush administration, the U.S. government engaged in systematic, officially sanctioned and coordinated torture.

We are not talking about rogue soldiers, such as those charged in the recreational abuse, torture, sodomy and even homicide of prisoners held in the now notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad.

Previously top secret Bush era memos released by the Obama administration lay out in excruciating detail the bogus legal cover sanctioning egregious violations of U.S. law and international conventions against torture. In the months ahead, more particulars of the U.S. torture programs will no doubt be exposed.


Pres. Barack Obama is attempting to contain the damage by pledging that his administration will not prosecute CIA officials who engaged in the torture of prisoners and opposing the appointment of a commission or a special prosecutor to investigate the abuses. He has vowed that the United States will never employ torture again, but continues to insist that “nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.” In the face of widespread criticism from human rights advocates, however, Obama has backpeddled a bit and left open the possibility of prosecuting those who devised the torture policy.

Pres. Obama may well find it politically expedient to sanitize his predecessor’s war crimes as a “dark and painful chapter in our history,” but the American public should not stand down.

For all the bluster on the Right, let us be clear: there is no dispute in legal and military circles that the brutal interrogation tactics authorized in the so-called “torture memos” by the Office of Legal Counsel, constitute torture. Pres. George W. Bush repeatedly insisted, dishonestly (no surprise there), as it turns out, during his presidency, that “This government does not torture people.” But, keeping detainees awake for 11 days at a stretch, waterboarding them, confining them in small, dark boxes with insects to exploit their phobias, etc. are time tested and classic torture techniques. Indeed, the United States prosecuted Japanese soldiers who applied these very techniques against captured Americans in World War II and U.S. soldiers as far back as the Spanish American War in 1898 and the Vietnam War in 1968.

The argument that investigations into the torture abuses are politically divisive is equally bogus. While there is something to be said for reconciliation, such as the broad amnesty granted by South Africa for abuses under apartheid, for example, that involved a painful historical break for the country. That is hardly the case here; a comparable example might well be the U.S. Civil War and accommodations for that conflict were made nearly 150 years ago.

It is now plain for all, except those on the fringe Right, that torture was sanctioned at the highest levels of the U.S. government and justice should follow the trail wherever it might lead. If, as seems likely, the trail leads to Pres. Bush and former Vice Pres. Dick Cheney, they should be indicted and tried for war crimes. Perhaps, the ensuing legal process may give them an appreciation of the protections afforded them by the U.S. justice system, which they were so unwilling to grant their enemies.

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