So it looks as though Spain is opening formal criminal inquiries into alleged war crimes surrounding the use of torture by the Bush administration. Judge Baltasar Garzón is involved in the investigation, the same guy who prosecuted Augusto Pinochet, the Chilean dictator propped up for years by the CIA. So perhaps there’s something “full-circle” about this. It’s not as though the Bush Administration is alone amongst the past dozen or so Presidents who abused their authority in order to spread American power across the globe. From Kennedy to Nixon to Bill Clinton these sorts of soft-crimes, coups, and shadowy military support of tyrants and rebels alike has been the modus operandi for the Executive Branch. George W. Bush just took it one step further, and it’s hard to know how other Presidents would have reacted post-9/11, but there is no question in my mind that few would have taken it so far as Bush did, and the main reason I believe that is because of the insidious influence of Cheney on White House policy over the past eight years.
Speaking of Cheney, according to the New York Times, he’s not on the list of Americans being investigated by the Spanish court.
A high-level Spanish court has taken the first steps toward opening a criminal investigation against six former Bush administration officials, including former Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, on whether they violated international law by providing a legalistic framework to justify the use of torture of American prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, an official close to the case said.
The complaint under review also names John C. Yoo, the former Justice Department lawyer who wrote secret legal opinions saying the president had the authority to circumvent the Geneva Conventions, and Douglas J. Feith, the former under secretary of defense for policy.
The other Americans named in the complaint were William J. Haynes II, former general counsel for the Department of Defense; Jay S. Bybee, Mr. Yoo’s former boss at the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel; and David S. Addington, who was the chief of staff and legal adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney. Mr. Yoo declined to comment on Saturday, saying that he had not seen or heard of the petition.
Now, it’s good to see these names on the list, but the absence of the former Vice President does raise some questions. Honestly, all the authorizations, justifications and so forth came down from the Vice President and thus from the President himself. It’s very unlikely that Bush knew everything that Cheney was doing, but that’s no excuse for allowing what happened to happen.
I suppose I feel sort of torn on this issue. I try to imagine the Bush years without Dick Cheney and his perfidious influence on everything. I think we might have actually seen “compassionate conservatism” in action, but I can only guess. Regardless, Bush was a failure for letting the inhumane policies of his Vice President override all other concerns, including the Constitution and basic human rights. In the end, these charges should be brought as high as they can be – to Cheney and Bush, who were not just complicit in torture, but who masterminded it, doing lasting and irreversible damage to America’s reputation the world over, and making our soldiers and citizens much less safe. We have stooped to the level of the worst of our enemies. This should be seen as a national tragedy. Simply bringing charges against officials within the administration smacks of ad hoc justice. Yes, these men were likely responsible for much of what happened in the name of freedom and security, but we risk making them into fall guys for the real war criminals.
Torture doesn’t make us safer or more free, and those who condoned it and made it part of our national security strategy should be brought to justice. I know this Spanish “inquisition” as it is likely to be called sooner or later is mostly all show. Yes it can lead to arrest warrants, but the fact is, in practical terms, this is mostly a symbolic gesture. The question is, at what point do symbolic gestures metamophosize into real action? At what point does ad hoc justice take shape and become real justice? When will this gain momentum? These investigations and proceedings should be happening in the United States. Maybe someday they will be.