Investigating criminal acts committed by people he actually knows is not a subject of great interest for Washington Post opinion columnist David Broder, but in the wake of colleague Eugene Robinson's expression of support for an investigation of detainee abuse, Broder simply flies into action to inveigh against it with a patronizing "tut-tut" and a fulsome swamp of double-speak.
Broder, feigning concern for what some call "principles," wants you to know something, right up front:
First, let me stipulate that I agree on the importance of accountability for illegal acts and for serious breaches of trust by government officials -- even at the highest levels. I had no problem with the impeachment proceedings against Richard Nixon, and I called for Bill Clinton to resign when he lied to his Cabinet colleagues and to the country during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
Great! So we're for accountability at the highest levels.
I understand why so many liberals who opposed the Bush administration are eager to see its operatives and officials forced publicly to explain their actions. The case that Robinson and many others make for seeking testimony is a strong one.
Oh, no! I sense a FRAME coming, destined to steal wind from the sails of the "accountability" Broder professes to find important. See, whether or not "liberals" want to get backsies at the Bush administration is irrelevant. In America, we have laws and when they are broken it's a crime and those crimes are investigated and wrongdoers are punished. How any particular group of people "feel" about the criminals is not important.
I am not persuaded by former vice president Dick Cheney's argument that this is simply political revenge by the now-dominant Democrats against their Republican predecessors. For all the previously stated reasons, there is ample justification for seeking answers apart from any partisan motive.
Oh, well, that's a relief, then! For a minute there, I thought for certain that Broder was going to pound away at the suggestion that the driver for torture investigations was some sort of "fringe" liberal quest for cheap vindication. How unfair of me. Broder seems to be fully on board with the idea that there is a rule of law in this country that makes no distinction for party.
Nonetheless, I think it is a matter of regret that Holder asked prosecutor John H. Durham to review the cases of the agents accused of abusive tactics toward some captives.
Wait. What? What? Does Broder not realize that he's changing his mind with each consecutive paragraph?
I realize this is a preliminary investigation, not a decision to prosecute anyone. And if it were to stop at that point, no great harm would have been done. But it is the first step on a legal trail that could lead to trials -- and that is what gives me pause.
But...but...what happened to that part where "accountability for illegal acts and for serious breaches of trust by government officials -- even at the highest levels" was important to you? What kind of accountability is this if you "pause" at the "first step" of a "legal trail" because it may lead to a "trial?"
Cheney is not wrong when he asserts that it is a dangerous precedent when a change in power in Washington leads a successor government not just to change the policies of its predecessors but to invoke the criminal justice system against them.
Oh, come on, now! Really. YOU JUST SAID: "I am not persuaded by former vice president Dick Cheney's argument that this is simply political revenge by the now-dominant Democrats against their Republican predecessors." I remember it, very clearly, from memories formed 20 seconds ago, when I read it.
Is David Broder having some sort of internal argument with his own brain, on the pages of the Washington Post? Because I'm totally casting Andy Serkis in the movie version of this column! Rest assured, though, it's the David Broder who doesn't think accountability is important that wins out in the end.
Looming beyond the publicized cases of these relatively low-level operatives is the fundamental accountability question: What about those who approved of their actions? If accountability is the standard, then it should apply to the policymakers and not just to the underlings. Ultimately, do we want to see Cheney, who backed these actions and still does, standing in the dock?
Whether or not anyone wants to see Dick Cheney standing trial is entirely irrelevant. If Dick Cheney committed a crime, he must stand trial. If Dick Cheney did not commit a crime, then he should not stand trial. This is not complicated. This is why we have a criminal justice system.
Right about now, I start wondering, "Wait. Did the Eugene Robinson column that Broder is referencing say things like, 'I, Eugene Robinson, am a liberal who wants to see Dick Cheney punished, just because I don't like him?" Let's take a look:
From History That Obama Can't Ignore, by Eugene Robinson, August 25, 2009:
If Holder's reported decision to reopen the CIA cases does lead to prosecutions, there is one possible outcome that everyone should find unacceptable: that only the hands-on abusers are charged and tried. Proper investigations must work their way up the chain. In some instances, it may be a mid-level employee who overstepped clear boundaries and ordered subordinates to perform acts that might have taken place in a medieval dungeon. In other cases, illegal acts apparently were approved at the highest levels. Investigators need to be allowed to follow the evidence all the way to the top -- into the White House, if that is where the trail leads.
I'm under no illusion that George W. Bush or Dick Cheney is actually going to be prosecuted by the Justice Department. But I want to know -- and I believe the nation needs to know -- the full, unvarnished truth of what they and others did in our name. It's probable that painful scrutiny and lasting disgrace will be the only sanctions that Bush and Cheney ever face. But history demands at least that much.
So, no! Not at all. Robinson is resigned to the fact that even if the "trail leads" to the White House, that there will not be prosecution of those at the highest levels. Broder, then, is basically saying that Eugene Robinson is "wrong" for suggesting something that he never suggested!
Broder signs off by reminding us all that it is a far, far more courageous thing to be willing to look past instances of wrongdoing than it is to insist, like Robinson, on accountability.
When President Ford pardoned Nixon in 1974, I wrote one of the few columns endorsing his decision, which was made on the basis that it was more important for America to focus on the task of changing the way it would be governed and addressing the current problems. It took a full generation for the decision to be recognized by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation and others as the act of courage that it had been.
I hope we can avoid another such lapse. The wheels are turning, but they can still be halted before irreparable damage is done.
Yes. Hopefully sending the message that you can break the law and never ever have to worry about being held accountable won't do any "irreparable damage."