The Department of Justice has just closed the loop on the last chance for accountability on the widespread torture that took place under George W Bush. Obama has declared that the people who actually conducted the torture will not be prosecuted for their crimes – because they were just following orders. The people who gave those orders – George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and their aides – won’t be prosecuted either, Obama says, because we need to look forward and not dwell in the past.
Who does that leave? It leaves us with the people in the middle, the Bush Administration figures who didn’t come up with the idea for torture, and didn’t actually do the torture, but set up the administrative framework in which the torture could take place. Now comes the news that these people are going to be let off the hook too. The Department of Justice has decided not to prosecute the lawyers who crafted the twisted justifications that enabled the orders for torture to be given.
Is this how serious crime will be dealt with under President Obama? There isn’t any crime more grave than torture. You could reasonably argue that it’s even more serious than murder. Are we now to let all serious criminals off the hook?
If that’s the case, there are some serious crimes I’d love to commit. I’d really like to have a top of the line Apple desktop computer, along with new graphics software. Why don’t I just walk into the nearest Apple store today, and grab a computer and some fun software, then, and walk out the door? If someone stops me, I can just say that I was operating under orders from a secret program, and urge the police to look forward, and not dwell on the past.
Oh, but that wouldn’t work, would it? No, that’s because President Obama is confirming that there are now two systems of law in the United States: One for the powerful and their crimes, and another for the rest of us.
By refusing to hold anyone accountable for torture conducted by the U.S. government, Barack Obama is not just making torture more likely in the future. He’s also undermining the foundations of liberty in the present.