President Obama today left the door open to prosecution of Bush administration officials for devising interrogation policies that the current administration deems distasteful. The move is something of a flip-flop, as Obama had previously indicated he wouldn’t go after the past administration. The interrogation policies were detailed in memos released last week to some controversy, both in what they contained, outlining waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and the use of insects, and in the fact that they were released at all, providing our enemies with a playbook to CIA interrogation, thus giving them greater information on how to resist.
I don’t want the United States to be in the business of torture, but there is some difference between “torture” and “interrogation.” Yes, I know that the Japanese waterboarded during World War II and we considered it torture back then. Yes, I know that Republican Presidential nominee John McCain came out against the practice. Yes, I know the arguments that torture never works, as the one questioned ends up telling the interrogator what they want to hear.
The thorny point is that the “harsh interrogations” seemed to have worked at least a little bit. The CIA maintains that its interrogations on Khalid Sheik Mohammed and others thwarted a 9/11-style attack on Los Angeles and led to the arrest of the terrorist Hambali. In addition, former Vice President Dick Cheney is pushing for the immediate release of more CIA memos that he believes will justify the use of the questionable interrogation practices.
But even beyond the debate about what constitutes torture and what works to safeguard the American public is what appears to me to be a politically motivated judicial attack on a previous administration. I agree with Hot Air’s Ed Morrissey when he says that if Obama truly believes the interrogation tactics were not warranted, he should simply move forward. Prosecuting a former administration (and conveniently overlooking anything any other administrations may have done) will be an unfair and vindictive act of partisanship that will obliterate any chance for Obama of winning over Republicans and conservatives. President Obama is leaving the judicial moves up to Attorney General Eric Holder and the Justice Department, but make no mistake, if shameful and partisan show trials commence, it will be another example of an administration not trying to be conciliatory and govern from the center, but imperiously dictating terms to those who didn’t vote for a winner. I don’t know what will ultimately come of this, but I hope that scenario doesn’t come to pass.