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by Alexander Cockburn

Pressure on Obama for Independent Investigation of Bush Admin Rights Abuses

What was dismissed only a few months ago by leading Democrats in Washington as unthinkable now seems possible -- that senior officials in the Bush administration, even Bush and Cheney, will be the target of public war-crime hearings and even criminal prosecutions here in the United States. Overseas is already dangerous terrain. George W. Bush's first defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, fled Paris a couple of years ago to avoid honoring a subpoena from French investigators, replicating a similarly hasty exit from the French jurisdiction by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

For almost the entire four years of Bush's second term, one of the main campaigns of the left was to pressure the Democratic leadership to support impeachment proceedings against the Republican president and vice president. Top Democrats such as House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi nixed the idea. But following regime change in January, the prosecution of Bush and accomplices such as Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales for instituting, supervising or condoning specific war crimes was the far more plausible option, mainly because it meant confronting targets no longer in power with the resources of the federal government at their beck and call.

Last Wednesday, Feb. 25, Pelosi was asked by MSNBC's Rachel Maddow what her reaction would be to any charges from the inspector general of the Justice Department, leveled at Republicans now in private life and busy writing their memoirs: Maddow: "If the (U.S. Justice Department's) inspector general report that comes out this summer suggests that there has been criminal activity at the official level on issues like torture, or wireless wiretapping, or rendition, or any of these other issues... " Pelosi: "No one is above the law. I think I have said that."

In active English, Pelosi's pious phraseology about no one being "above the law" translates into something like "these guys are out of power and their popularity ratings are in the toilet so it's safe to turn the dogs on them." And to drive the point home, Pelosi said she had a problem with Democratic senator Pat Leahy's plan for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Leahy's comment that such a commission would make it "very clear to the next person, you try the same thing, you are going to be found out, you are going to be prosecuted."

Of course, the issue is not "the next person" but the guy with the blood still dripping from his fingers. Pelosi said that she was bothered about such a commission offering immunity to witnesses. "I don't think we should be giving them immunity," she insisted to Maddow.

Since Pelosi controls assignment of hearings to relevant committees in the House this means that she could give the green light to House Justice Committee chairman John Conyers to organize hearings. Equipped with a fierce director and subpoena power -- i.e., the ability to compel testimony and documents under the threat of criminal sanction -- such hearings could form the first of what the left regards as necessary show trials of officials of an outlaw regime that trashed the Constitution and international law regarding treatment of "enemy combatants" and torture of captives directly by U.S. personnel or, indirectly, by kidnapping those suspected of terrorism and handing them over to allies to be tortured in prisons in Egypt or Thailand or Eastern Europe.

There is already a significant evidentiary trail to link torture in the U.S. prisons at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib directly to former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. According to a sworn statement by Air Force Lt. General Randall Schmidt, appointed in 2005 to investigate charges by FBI officials that there had been widespread abuse at Guantanamo, Rumsfeld gave verbal and subsequently written approval to torture of suspects, using the notorious techniques of isolation, sleep deprivation and psychic degradation as conceived by the micromanaging Defense secretary who, when apprised by Schmidt of his own documented instructions to the torturers in Guantanamo, said in apparent surprise: "Did (I) say 'put a bra and panties on this guy's head and make him dance with another man'"? In the case of Abu Ghraib, there is again a trail of evidence showing it was Rumsfeld who personally decreed and monitored stress positions, from individual phobias, such as fear of dogs, to sleep deprivation and waterboarding. One Army officer, Janis Karpinski, has described finding in Abu Ghraib a piece of paper stuck on a pole outside a little office used by the interrogators. It was a memorandum signed by Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, authorizing techniques such as use of dogs, stress positions, and starvation. On the paper, in Rumsfeld's handwriting, was the terse instruction, "Make sure this happens!!"

In contrast to Pelosi's toughening posture on Capitol Hill, over at the White House, Obama has been sticking carefully to the line that partisan witch hunts are part of the old politics of divisiveness and that it's time to move on. Simultaneously, Obama's Justice Department lawyers have told judges that the new administration will not be moving on from Bush's policies on supposed enemy combatants. These will not be afforded international legal protections, whether on the field of battle in Afghanistan or, if kidnapped by U.S. personnel, anywhere in the world.

This explicit continuity with the lawless Bush years has deeply dismayed Obama's left supporters and their dismay no doubt has emboldened the cautious Pelosi to take the harder stand she adopted last Wednesday. Six months or a year down the road, it would not be astonishing to see more than one congressional committee haling before them not just Rumsfeld or former Justice Department officials but also corporate titans for cross examination and subsequent criminal charges. "Bipartisanship" is a rhetorical device, not a strategy.

© Creators Syndicate

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Albion Monitor   February 27, 2009   (

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