Monday, April 27, 2009

Mark Danner: "If Everyone Knew, Who's to Blame?"

Mark Danner:
The irony is that those Justice Department memos were written for just this moment: the moment when all would come to light. That they exist is a chronicle of scandal foretold.
The memos are the true offspring of the Church Commission, the mid-1970s investigation of CIA wrongdoing that looms over this scandal and that changed forever how covert actions were conducted. Before Church, "black ops" were undertaken with no explicit legal order: If wrongdoing came to light, the president denied knowledge. After Church, the president was required to sign a "finding" making approval explicit. For former Vice President Cheney and others, the findings and other reforms that followed from Church -- including FISA and other laws that limited the president's power to use the CIA -- were in essence when "the gloves went on."

And so, after 9/11, when the gloves came off, there would be no deniability: All was documented with lawyers' briefs and study group reports and official signatures. That leads to the third paradox of torture: Responsibility is spread so broadly, beginning, as they say, "at the highest level," that the political problem is not whether, eventually, to prosecute but whom, and how high. Too many are implicated: George Tenet and others at the CIA saw to that. They foresaw precisely this moment, and they were determined, when the music stopped, not to be the only ones left standing with no chair.

And now, as the great clangorous machinery of Washington scandal rumbles into life, everywhere one looks former officials stand, without chairs and without places to hide.

If justice is allowed to follow its course, then some prosecutions will eventually come, but they alone cannot lead us back to political health. For that, President Obama and Congress need to authorize an authoritative bipartisan investigation of what was done and how, for that is the only way to destroy definitively the idea that the United States must torture to defend itself.
For the moment, the president, an ambitious leader who wants to "look forward" and not back, sees only the political costs of such an inquiry, which will be considerable. But the country has already incurred those costs and the damage in not paying them now will be far greater.

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