Note to Progressives: Let a Panel Investigate Torture Charges

01/21/2009 03:35 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Although he is anything but a dispassionate, neutral newsman, I enjoy watching Keith Olbermann because he's my personal antidote for Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter.

But sometimes he has no sense of proportion, no concept of real politics. Olbermann is, like many on the left, what Lenin might have called an infantile progressive.

So I was not surprised by his special comment calling on President Barack Obama to prosecute George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, et. al. for commanding practices now known to be torture. Not surprised, but disappointed.

Not that there's any question about the facts. "We tortured [Mohammed al-] Kahtani," according to Susan Crawford, the convening authority of military commissions. "His treatment met the legal definition of torture."

This, from a retired judge who served as general counsel for the Army during the Reagan administration and as Pentagon inspector general when Cheney was secretary of defense.

But the last thing Obama needs, as he sets out to restore the economy, end the war in Iraq and ramp up the offensive against Al Qaida in Afghanistan and Pakistan, is a blistering, partisan fight over practices that his incoming Attorney General Eric Holder has denounced.

That would place a pristine sense of liberal morality above the pragmatic demands of progressive policy. And it would be crippling - dooming the Obama administration to deadlock and likely demise.

As Obama told George Stephanopoulos the other day: "What we have to focus on is getting things right in the future, as opposed to looking at what we got wrong in the past."

But Olbermann and others on the head-banging left are not entirely wrong. It is important to take a stand against the policies and practices of the Bush administration that have corroded American prestige throughout the world.

What is needed is a smart, political course of action. And there are plenty of precedents. Obama should appoint a special counsel whose mission is to investigate U.S. military and intelligence practices and to report to a bipartisan, blue-ribbon commission made up of "respected" elders like George Mitchell, Warren Christopher, James Baker, Chuck Hagel, Madeline Albright, etc.

After receiving data, reports and public testimony from the special counsel, this commission would write a report and recommend a course of action to the Justice Department.

If the Justice Department then brought charges against principals who had approved illegal, torturous activities, these would be the result of recommendations from a nationally-respected special commission - not subject to charges that it was a partisan witch-hunt by the Obama administration.

Is this a political course of action that dodges confronting the moral issue head on? Absolutely. Is there anything wrong with that? I don't think so. Not if you want Obama to succeed and you believe we must, as a nation, repudiate the despicable policies and practices of the Bush administration.