“It's an outrageous precedent to set, to have this kind of, I think, intensely partisan, politicized look-back at the prior administration.”-- former Vice President Dick Cheney
Let's suppose that Cheney is right--prior illegal acts, violations of international law and/or the Geneva Convention, violations of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA)--any and all offenses, including torture of prisoners, that take place under one administration are water under the bridge and off limits to scrutiny by subsequent administrations. Of course, we also have to ignore that these acts were illegal under our system of law when they were committed, and look beyond the previous administration's sanctions, tacit and/or explicit, of practices and policies that were violations of federal and international law. So what's the result of the application of the Cheney policy?
The lower ranked CIA officers, the ones busy inflicting physical and psychological torture on individuals who might be terrorists, get to say that they were just following orders. Of course, the higher up the chain of command that we go, the more that excuse doesn't fly, after all, someone had to give the orders. However, we don't want to make it so that no one wants to engage in illegal activities like torture, and according to the Cheney policy, that's exactly what will happen if Attorney General Eric Holder continues with a preliminary investigation into whether any CIA officers went beyond what they were told was legally permissible in interrogating detainees.
I read a comment posted somewhere in which the commenter said that innocent people weren't tortured, only evil bad terrorists. I've been looking for a provision in federal or international law that permits torture of evildoers. So far, I haven't found it.
Did you ever notice how we referred to the alleged terrorists as detainees, not prisoners? Maybe it's because the majority of these people had never been tried and convicted of any crimes; they were being held as suspected terrorists. We refused to call them prisoners of war, because as such, they were entitled to certain rights under the Geneva Convention. The Bush administration finally settled on enemy combatants, an essentially meaningless term that allowed the indefinite detaining of people without the benefit of trial under military, criminal, or civil law. Of course, if we had proof of their crimes, we wouldn't have needed to attempt to obtain confessions through the use of torture.
I can't live in former VP Cheney's world. His policy frightens me. It makes the law meaningless and powerless. It may sound corny, but I became a lawyer because I believe in the ideals of law. I recognize that those ideals are not always upheld; in fact, those ideals get trampled on a lot but they're still there, the beacon of justice shining in the night. The redemption of this country, our redemption as a people, lies in being unafraid to shine the light of justice into our dark corners and reveal our own failings. To do so, makes us strong; to fail to do so, to hide behind some smug notion that what happened in the Bush administration stays in the Bush administration demeans the very values that we so vociferously shout that we support. Mr. Cheney, you are so wrong.