Our long national nightmare isn't over. Three months after Barack Obama's inauguration, the ghosts of the Bush era continue to haunt the United States. We're tormented by Bush's nightmare economic policies and his horrific "war" on terror. And Dubya's version of Freddy Krueger, Dick Cheney, has returned to scare Americans with his tales of torture and imminent terrorist attacks.
The recent torture revelations paint an ugly picture and make the sequence of events crystal clear. Having failed to prevent 9/11, the Bush White House put a positive spin on the terrorist attacks: they could be used to justify an attack on Iraq. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice and a few others began preparing for the invasion of Iraq - in late 2001 and early 2002 - and studying the use of torture, "enhanced interrogation techniques." At the direction of Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld, six influential Administration lawyers -- David Addington, Jay Bybee, Douglas Feith, Alberto Gonzales, William Haynes, and John Yoo - prepared legal justifications for torture. Their primary objective was not to elicit information that would prevent further attacks, but rather to establish a tie between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein - to cement the Bush rationale that an attack on Iraq was justified because Saddam had help orchestrate 9/11.
Ever the pragmatist, President Obama has tried to dodge the torture issue, reasoning that it's highly divisive and will divert public attention from his ambitious agenda. Obama has encouraged Americans to "look forward rather backward;" noble sentiments, but unrealistic. The conduct of the Bush White House was egregious. Americans are right to express their outrage. The torture demons have to be purged from the body politic.
It's not only that George Bush, Dick Cheney, and their co-conspirators lied to America and probably broke the law, they also set a moral tone: the ends justify the means and the President and his cronies were above the law.
Four options are open to Obama. He can ask Attorney General Holder to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the Bush torture policy and determine whether any of the decision makers should be prosecuted. Obama might appoint a blue-ribbon panel, similar to the 9/11 commission, to conduct the investigation. He could rely upon Congress to convene a bipartisan committee - Senator Leahy has already suggested such a group patterned after South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation process. Or, Obama can avoid the entire issue.
Because of inflamed public opinion, Obama can't afford to duck the torture issue. The problem with having Congress handle the investigation is that it wll be impossible to convene a bipartisan committee to handle the inquiry; Congress is too divided. Furthermore, having Congress handle this matter would divert attention from pressing matters such as the economy, healthcare, and other priority Obama agenda items. Obama has ruled out a blue-ribbon panel.
The best alternative would be for President Obama to direct Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special prosecutor. This action would offload both the White House and Congress. It would mark the investigation as a legal process and depoliticize it. The special prosecutor would have the power to subpoena witnesses and make legal recommendations. They could take the time to answer the basic questions: Who was responsible for the torture policy? Was Congress informed? Were any laws broken? What are the appropriate sanctions?
It's time for Dubya's ghosts to be purged from the White House. We need to put the Bush era behind us and move on. The way to do this is by appointing a special prosecutor to investigate Bush's torture policy.