Monday, August 31, 2009

Pardon Them 3

Publius has a very smart comment reacting to Cheney's appearance on Fox News over the weekend. As he points out, there's a very strong dynamic here -- he calls it ideological, while I'd call it partisan -- that is leading to the Republicans becoming what Andrew Sullivan is calling "the torture party."

That dynamic is why I support pardon, followed by a commission. Pardon is the way to break the partisan logic of for/against, and allow the President and anti-torture Republicans to take control of the national conversation.

Pardon/commission is a path to ridding the political system of a dangerous malignancy, torture. It is very different from what Fred Hiatt proposes, a neutral commission instead of prosecution. Pardon/commission would not be neutral. It would begin with a strong statement by the President of the United States that crimes were committed. Real crimes. Serious crimes. Actions were taken by the government of the United States that the full weight of the American experience show to be legally criminal and morally abhorrent. This statement would be joined by leaders from the military and intelligence community, and from respected leaders from both political parties (as I've said, with any luck at least one of the living former Republican presidents would be willing to support it, and possibly even the one being pardoned). With that said, then Obama could talk about mistakes made in the heat of action and with the motivation of defending the nation, and pardon all those involved in torture. But only in the context that crimes were committed.

The commission part of pardon/commission need not be neutral, either, with respect to torture. Of course, Cheney would have a chance to talk, and he's not going to change his tune regardless of what anyone does. But the commission itself should be stacked with people who support the anti-torture consensus, just as a commission on (say) gang violence would support the anti-murder consensus. But even a good commission isn't going to work as long as prosecutions hang over so many of the witnesses, even though many of the natural political allies of those witnesses have no inherent reason to be pro-torture (and those in the military and the intelligence community have good reason to be anti-torture). Yes, a commission, but only with the strong statement of pardon first.

(The first two posts in this series can be found here and here)

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