Today President Barack Obama opened a door that his chief of staff and his press secretary had closed in recent days, suggesting that it is possible that his administration may attempt to try former Bush hands who were involved in formulating interrogation rules for suspected terrorists:
While the Bush-era memos providing legal justifications for enhanced interrogation methods "reflected us losing our moral bearings," the president said, he also that he did not think it was "appropriate" to prosecute those CIA officers who "carried out some of these operations within the four corners of the legal opinions or guidance that had been provided by the White House."
But in clear change from language he and members of his administration have used in the past, the president said that "with respect to those who formulated those legal decisions, I would say that is going to be more of a decision for the Attorney General within the parameters of various laws and I don’t want to prejudge that. I think that there are a host of very complicated issues involved there."
This is stupid, stupid, stupid. Breathtakingly stupid. Stupid on steroids. Doubleplus Unsmart stupid. Meta-stupid, even.
Let's do a thought experiment. What happens if Eric Holder decides to go forward and charge the former Bush hands? What follows is by no means an exhaustive list of possibilities.
- The Bush hands (probably John Yoo, perhaps Alberto Gonzales and maybe even Evil Dick Cheney) lawyer up. In order to mount their defense, the lawyers demand reams of classified documents, especially those that would be exculpatory. Does Obama dare release classified information?
- Suppose the administration denies the request for the information. What does the court do? Which federal judge wants to be the one to oversee a Star Chamber? Line forms at the left. And if no judge accepts the assignment and throws the case out, Obama has managed to humiliate his entire Department of Justice.
- If the administration releases the information, what happens to it? Does it remain classified? Or do we give away information that would be highly useful to those who still have a little grudge with the U.S.?
- Meanwhile, the Obama hands who are now responsible for administering the War on Terror (or whatever we call it these days) now have a decision to make. Do we take bold action when needed, or do we go into a bureaucratic fetal position, knowing full well that the next administration may take a similar avenging angel approach to the work they are currently undertaking? What would you do?
Look, we can agree to disagree about whether the Bush administration "lost its moral bearings" or not. We can even put up with a certain amount of preening and moral vanity from Obama and his team, which should last until they are faced with the next attack. But woe betide Obama and all his people if we are attacked and his team fails to take action because it is afraid that at some point in the future, it will be put in the dock because its political enemies call for retribution.
I'm hoping that Eric Holder is smart enough to do a cursory "investigation," cover his boss's ass and bury this breathtakingly stupid idea once and for all.