The other day Glenn Greenwald laid out the case
for the prosecution of Bush and Cheney for their authorization of torture methods.
These premises -- conclusively established by undisputed news reports and the statements of the person about to become the country's top law enforcement officer as well as a top Bush official -- are clear, and the conclusions they compel are inescapable. The Bush administration authorized, ordered and practiced torture. The U.S., under Ronald Reagan, legally obligated itself to investigate and prosecute any acts of torture committed by Americans (which includes authorization of torture by high level officials and also includes, under Article 3 of the Convention, acts of "rendering" detainees to countries likely to torture, as the Bush administration unquestionably did).
All of the standard excuses being offered by Bush apologists and our political class (a virtual redundancy) -- namely: our leaders meant well; we were facing a dangerous enemy; government lawyers said this could be done; Congress immunized the torturers; it would be too divisive to prosecute -- are explicitly barred by this treaty (i.e., binding law) as a ground for refusing to investigate and prosecute acts of torture.
This is also why the standard argument now being offered by Bush apologists (such as University of Chicago Law Professor Eric Posner, echoing his dad, Court of Appeals Judge Richard Posner in Chicago) as to why prosecutions are unnecessary -- namely: there is "prosecutorial discretion" that should take political factors into account in order not to prosecute -- are both frivolous and lawless. The Convention explicitly bars any such "discretion": "The State Party in territory under whose jurisdiction a person alleged to have committed any offence referred to in article 4 is found, shall . . . submit the case to its competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution." The principal purpose of the Convention is to remove the discretion involved in prosecuting acts of torture and to bar the very excuses which every torturing society proffers and which our own torturing society is now attempting to invoke ("we were dealing with real threats; there were 'exceptional circumstances' that justified it; we enacted laws legalizing the torture; our leaders meant well; we need to move on").
International treaties which the U.S. signs and ratifies aren't cute little left-wing platitudes for tying the hands of America. They're binding law according to the explicit mandates of Article VI of our Constitution. Thus, there simply is no way to (a) argue against investigations and prosecutions for Bush officials and simultaneously (b) claim with a straight face to believe in the rule of law, that no one is above the law, and that the U.S. should adhere to the same rules and values it attempts to impose on the rest of the world. Last week, Paul Krugman stated about as clearly as possible why this is so:
I’m sorry, but if we don’t have an inquest into what happened during the Bush years — and nearly everyone has taken Mr. Obama’s remarks to mean that we won’t — this means that those who hold power are indeed above the law because they don’t face any consequences if they abuse their power.
For those wondering how lefty political cartoonists will respond to a Democratic White House and Congress, we could always start by demanding that they enforce the damn law. Happy inauguration day!
Oh, and - don't get me started on the war crimes. Oy.