Saturday, April 18, 2009

Charlie Pierce on the President and Torture

"I have now lived through three major episodes in my life where the political elite have told me quite plainly that neither I nor my fellow citizens are sufficiently mature to suffer the public prosecution of major crimes committed within my government. The first was when Gerry Ford told me I wasn't strong enough to handle the sight of Richard Nixon in the dock. (Ed. note--I would have thrown a parade.) Dick Cheney looked at this episode and determined that the only thing Nixon did wrong was get caught. The second time was when the entire government went into spasm over the crimes of the Iran-Contra gang and I was told that I wasn't strong enough to see Ronald Reagan impeached or his men packed off to Danbury. Dick Cheney looked at this and determined that the only thing Reagan and his men did wrong was get caught and, by then, Cheney had decided that even that wasn't really so very wrong and everybody should shut up. Now, Barack Obama, who won election by telling the country and its people that they were great because of all they'd done for him, has told me that I am not strong enough to handle the prosecution of pale and vicious bureaucrats, many of them acting at the behest of Dick Cheney, who decided that the only thing he was doing wrong was nothing at all, who have broken the law, disgraced their oaths, and manifestly belong in a one-room suite at the Hague. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I'm sick and goddamn tired of being told that, as a citizen, I am too fragile to bear the horrible burden of watching public criminals pay for their crimes and that, as a political entity, my fellow citizens and I are delicate flowers encased in candy-glass who must be kept away from the sight of men in fine suits weeping as they are ripped from the arms of their families and sent off to penal institutions manifestly more kind than those in which they arranged to get their rocks off vicariously while driving other men mad.

Hey, Mr. President. Put these barbarians on trial and watch me. I'll be the guy out in front of the courtroom with a lawn chair, some sandwiches, and a cooler of fine beer. I'll be the guy who hires the brass band to serenade these criminal bastards on their way off to the big house. I'll be the one who shows up at every one of their probation hearings with a copy of the Constitution, the way crime victims show up at the parole board when their attacker comes up for release. I'll declare a national holiday -- Victory Over Torture Day -- and lead the parade right up whatever gated street it is that Cheney lives on these days. Trust me, Mr. President. I can take it. "

The wise, immortal, intelligent Charles P. Pierce, available here: (

Dan Carlin, another observer I admire(, phrased his distaste for the two major parties by stating that the lesser of two evils is still evil. Joseph Heller, major American novelist, once told Bill Moyers that he didn't vote because he didn't like choosing between one or the other wings of the Big Money Party.

Longtime readers of this blog, both of you, have probably concluded that I am in the tank for President Obama. I drunk deeply of the bathwater, or the Kool Aid, bought into the program, was assimilated into the Borg.

I think, more than anything else, I sympathize with the President. There was an editorial cartoon after the Bush v. Gore decision, picturing Gore walking away from Bush, saying, "Alright, you win...", while Bush holds a newspaper filled with headlines of doom and gloom. This election was kind of like that one in the sense that the loser is almost better off because he doesn't now have to wrestle with all these horrific, almost intractable problems. (And I would like to emphasize that, as far as it goes, I firmly believe that Obama was a better choice than McCain for several reasons, and that's why I voted for him.) (And I admit to getting prickly when Obama is criticized unfairly.)

But on this case, on this issue, in this way Obama is dead on, full bore wrong. He should be ashamed of himself, and I am ashamed of him. Failing to prosecute these men is a grave mistake and a massive injustice. 100 years from now, this decision is going to look as silly and wrongheaded as baseball segregation does to me now.


  1. Some on the Left are savaging Obama because they want him to go on a partisan witch-hunt. And I've already seen some on the Right blast Obama because they did not like how he worded his statement. He can't win, can he?

  2. It's not a partisan witch hunt to convict people who broke the law.

  3. It is when lawbreakers of other parties are ignored. You mentioned the "crimes of the Iran Contra gang". Which boiled down to Reagan helping Nicaragua fend off the Communists when this was declared illegal.

    Well, Bill Clinton did the same thing: he broke the law by aiding Croatia when it repelled the Serbian invaders (also communist, coincidentally). Yet, little is made of this.

  4. Except when the Republican controlled Senate Intelligence Committee investigated Clinton over the aid to Croatia, they found that no laws were broken. You mean to tell me that Republicans in 1996 wouldn't have gone after Bill Clinton if they had the evidence?

    The United States Congress passed the Boland Amendment, saying that the US will not aid the Contras. Reagan signed it. Thus, it was US law. Reagan then aided the Contras anyway. When summoned to Congress under oath, his aides lied about it.

    That seems a lot clearer example of malfeasance to me.

    All lawbreakers, of whatever party, should be prosecuted.

  5. I doubt the Republicans wanted to bash Clinton for helping Croatia fend off invaders. Bob Dole, who was in power in the 1990s and a major Republican leader, stood up for opposing Serbian aggression against Serbia's neighboring Balkan nations. He generally sided with Clinton. It was probably much less of "Clinton didn't do anything illegal" than "Clinton didn't do anything wrong".

  6. ...which still doesn't explain how prosecuting the perpetrators of outrages against human decency amounts to a "partisan witch hunt".

    The United States of America tortured people. It is going to take generations, if ever, to live this down. Someone should answer for that.

  7. Someone did answer for it: President Bush, Dick Cheney, and the entire Republican party, which is in tatters and is currently working on figuring out what the hell it stands for (suspect foreign wars, massive deficits, and torture didn't work out well - the American people apparently want something else).

    That's how democracy works, and I would argue it worked well. I agree with our current President on this one.

    Going after a previous administration's policies is a dangerous precendent. Every time a new party takes control, much time, energy, and effort could be spent investigating every thing that happened in the previous administration instead of focusing on the future.

    President Obama is right. We have limited governmental resources and an unprecendented financial crisis. Our focus should be on the future, not the past.

    Which is not to say what happened is right; it is merely to say that the most recent election was the solution.

  8. No, making $100,000 a night on the lecture circuit is not "answering for it".

    Spending the rest of your life behind bars in the Hague is answering for it.

    This is not just another scandal. This is not lying about sex. This is destroying human beings, destroying the Constitution, and getting away with it.

  9. History will be the judge. Count on it.


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