For months, we've been calling for Attorney General Eric Holder to rise above partisan political calculations and enforce our laws against torture. According to a story that broke in Newsweek this weekend, he may be preparing to finally do that. The article cites "four knowledgeable sources" who say that Holder is "leaning toward appointing a prosecutor to investigate the Bush administration's brutal interrogation practices."
Newsweek's article and all the subsequent reporting on the issue makes it clear that the White House is resistant to the idea. In a bit of doom and gloom, the article predicts:
"Such a decision would roil the country, would likely plunge Washington into a new round of partisan warfare, and could even imperil Obama's domestic priorities, including health care and energy reform."
Holder is portrayed as caught between his loyalty to Obama on one side and the simple demands of justice on the other--but leaning towards justice.
If the White House political gunners, like Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, manage to squash a torture investigation to help further their own political maneuverings, it will the biggest sellout yet of the Obama presidency. Certainly, big things are on the administration's agenda--healthcare reform, cap and trade environmental regulation, the Employee Free Choice Act, 2010 and 2012 races--but for them to claim the moral authority to just sweep torture under the rug would be the height of hubris.
But wait! There's already a sellout in what the Justice Department has in mind. According to WaPo's reporting,
"The sources said an inquiry would apply only to activities by interrogators, working in bad faith, that fell outside the 'four corners' of the legal memos."
"The actions of higher-level Bush policymakers are not under consideration for possible investigation."
The Justice Department broadcasting this message is like charging into battle already waving a white flag. It's like saying, "Don't worry, you who created the torture policies and knew exactly what you were doing! Your safe. We're just coming for the little people who made mistakes following your orders!'"
So if all they're going to do is look at some interrogators who went too far, why is the White House so scared its entire political agenda will be derailed? And who says it could be derailed anyway? Democrats have a filibuster proof majority in the Senate, a big margin in the house, a popular president, and a public that supports all their big legislative goals. Maybe they haven't noticed yet that they're in charge. Maybe they're afraid Republicans might yell at them.
Dear White House,
Grow a backbone. Our country can enforce laws AND pass new laws at the same time.
Better Than Machines
To end on a more redeeming note, here's a round of applause for Eric Holder for beginning, ever so slightly, to swim against the current. Hopefully he will let an investigation lead where it leads, as high up the chain as that may be.