Thursday, November 27, 2008

Our Ms. Brooks: Pardoning Turkeys

Rosa Brooks' Thanksgiving column is a timely one. Written with her usual snark, this one also includes more than a little acid. The subject is that of presidential pardons, and Ms. Brooks urges President Bush to pardon all the feathered turkeys he'd like, but not the foul ones in his administration.

It's those turkeys in your own administration you shouldn't pardon. The ones who were so determined to make human beings squawk that they treated the federal criminal code like one of Grandma's outmoded recipe books. Who saw nothing wrong with holding detainees in conditions worse than those prevailing at most commercial turkey farms. Who betrayed the millions of Americans who used to give thanks every year for living in a country that didn't rely on torture or secret prisons.

I'm talking about Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and all those who devised, ordered or carried out your administration's policies of "extraordinary rendition," "enhanced interrogation" and "black sites." ...

But using your pardon power in this way would be a huge mistake, Mr. President. Because there's a big catch: You can't issue a pardon without tacitly admitting that "offenses against the United States" have been committed. And do you really want to do that? Do you really want to admit that members of your administration -- probably acting on your instructions -- committed crimes against the United States, and follow that with removing the perpetrators of those crimes, maybe including yourself, from the criminal justice system?

Not a great legacy, Mr. President.

I think it highly unlikely that Mr. Bush will heed Ms. Brooks' advice. Although he had been one of the stingiest presidents of all time when it comes to pardons, he has notably picked up the pace the last few months, as if to prepare us for the big ones that will come right up to the hour Barack Obama takes the oath of office. Protecting his friends and himself from prosecution for destroying any semblance of constitutional governance has to be high on his meager lame-duck to-do list.

That said, I don't think his pardons should necessarily end the question of just what happened to this country under his watch. There is absolutely no reason why Congress cannot go ahead with the investigations into the various actions taken by the administration the last eight years, from the embrace of torture and kidnapping as useful tools in contravention of US law and international treaties to which we are signatory, to the egregious violations of the Bill of Rights when it comes to domestic spying, to the rank corruption within the various federal agencies which enabled cronies to enrich themselves and their patrons under the aegis of government regulations.

The Justice Department might be foreclosed from prosecuting, but at least we will finally know the depths to which this administration went in order to cripple us. Then, perhaps, we will be better prepared the next time a would-be tyrant emerges.



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