Attorney General Eric Holder has announced a preliminary investigation into abusive interrogation tactics. This investigation was recommended by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility. The scope of the investigation is limited to people who ignored the Bush Administration’s own guidelines for interrogating captives. David Broder still thinks this is too much.
Broder’s unique brand of centrist glop usually isn’t worth the time of day, but insofar as this article reflects an emerging ‘consensus’ on torture prosecutions, I think it’s worth addressing. Here are my problems with his broader argument:
1) At the end of the article, Broder compares his willingness to excuse torture to Ford’s decision to pardon Nixon. A presidential pardon, however, is a legitimate legal mechanism for absolving criminals. There is nothing legitimate about ignoring a recommendation from your own office to investigate prisoner abuse. Instead, it’s a straightforward endorsement of sweeping things under the rug.
2.) Broder worries that any investigation could implicate the higher-ups who authorized torture. This is an odd argument – a few paragraphs ago, Broder acknowledged that Holder is only proposing a preliminary investigation into tactics that violated the Bush Administration’s own interrogation guidelines. So why is Broder worried that former Bush officials would be implicated in prisoner abuse?
Broder won’t say it out loud, but I think he recognizes that any torture investigation will yield some uncomfortable questions about the link between the Bush-era OLC memos that established guidelines for “enhanced interrogation” and subsequent instances of extreme prisoner abuse. You can’t declare certain abusive practices off-limits while justifying others. Mistreatment and abuse won’t be sanitized or cordoned off.
3) It’s a bit depressing that Broder’s criteria for determing a policy’s legitimacy hinges on how much support it can attract from members of our political establishment. If Broder thinks that public opinion should be irrelevant to the fair and impartial application of the law, he sure has a weird way of showing it.
Finally, Broder suggests that any investigation will only distract the Administration from other important priorities. As straightfoward political analysis, I think this is hard to disagree with. So I have a question for my liberal and centrist-minded friends: would you be willing to lose a shot at cap-and-trade or healthcare reform or insert your preferred political priority here for a real chance at investigating torture?