Thursday, April 23, 2009

Ari Melber: "Time is now to uphold constitution"

Ari Melber (Politico):
Washington’s war criminals are finally nervous.

The newly released torture memos, in their brutal detail, have demolished the core argument of the Beltway’s torture defenders.

Everyone from President Barack Obama to former Vice President Dick Cheney has said the torture issue is about “the past.” But that makes no sense. Just read the memos. They clearly raise huge security questions about which rules govern our future counterterrorism efforts.

Can executive branch opinions simply override any federal statute or constitutional precedent? What is the duty of government officials who receive “legal” guidance that flatly contradicts the law? Can presidents use secret memos to run a two-branch government, squashing court oversight by declaring programs are for “national security” or “state secrets”?

And the big one: Are there any measures or consequences to prevent these abuses?
(emphasis Howie)
It is now incumbent on all three branches of government to address those questions with investigations, oversight and accountability. That is the only way to deter future crimes and provide future officials with guidance on their duties. So far, however, few in government are providing strong leadership.

The president deserves credit for ending torture and releasing the memos. His repeated suggestions that enforcing the law is less important than “unity” or “looking forward,” however, are unacceptable. And this week, he floated a mixed message by saying he did not want to look “backwards,” while also welcoming an independent “further accounting” of torture by Congress or an independent commission.

Over in the Senate, Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) says he supports an independent commission to investigate government misconduct. The idea drew endorsements from The Washington Post, former military and diplomatic officials from both parties and bipartisan legal organizations such as the Constitution Project. The group’s policy counsel, Becky Monroe, told me that “in order to truly move forward, we need a commission to fully investigate all of our practices regarding the detention, treatment and transfer of detainees.”

Leahy has given several speeches about the commission idea. He held a hearing on it last month. He issued another statement on it this week. He launched an online petition at His reelection committee has even raised money off the proposal, telling supporters that a “meaningful way” to support a commission is to donate to Leahy’s campaign. “It’s safe to say Sen. Leahy will not let the idea of a truth commission slip through the cracks,” reads one fundraising e-mail, promising that Leahy “will not rest until we have fully investigated the Bush-Cheney administration’s eight-year assault on the rule of law.”

But it does not take this long to introduce a bill. At this point, Leahy is starting to look like a profile in procrastination.

After the release of the torture memos, I asked Leahy’s office to confirm if he would introduce a bill and when. In response, an aide reiterated that he is still talking about the idea with colleagues and experts. There was no answer, however, on when an actual bill might arrive.

For leadership in real time, you have to visit the House. In January, Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) introduced legislation for an independent commission. Last month, he published a 541-page report, “Reining in the Imperial Presidency,” outlining recommendations to restore the rule of law, including his past advocacy of a special prosecutor to investigate waterboarding. (New York Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the first member of Congress to call for impeaching Judge Jay Bybee, co-sponsored Conyers’ legislation calling for an independent, nonpartisan commission.)

Conyers renewed his call for accountability last week. “As Americans digest the awful revelations in the Bush-era [Office of Legal Counsel] opinions, our nation faces a critical choice — what will we do to ensure that abuses like those described in these memos are never again ordered by our leaders or justified by our lawyers?” he asked.

Conyers renewed his call for independent investigations and prosecutions: “If our leaders are found to have violated the strict laws against torture, either by ordering these techniques without proper legal authority or by knowingly crafting legal fictions to justify the torture, they should be criminally prosecuted. It is simply obvious that, if there is no accountability when wrongdoing is exposed, future violations will not be deterred.”
toIt is so obvious, in fact, that we should stop entertaining the political fiction that upholding our Constitution is only for people obsessed with the “past.” As the revelations of torture and surveillance pile up, the future will be full of legal confusion and lawless temptation until we independently investigate these failures and enforce our laws.

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