"We're not dealing with war criminals here," says Ben Wizner, an attorney in the ACLU's National Security Project. The Obama Administration, by denouncing torture, has done a lot to reverse direction from the dark Bush years.
But Obama has also frustrated civil libertarians who want to see the torturers held accountable. Plus, he has moved to dismiss, on state secrets grounds, lawsuits against the government and telecommunications companies for warrantless wiretapping.
"Obama has so far stood in the way of any legal accountability for the crimes of the last seven years," says Wizner. The Administration has been very resistant to the idea of opening criminal investigations of Bush Administration officials. And, on a lesser-known matter, it has opposed the efforts of lawyers like Wizner to allow his clients, who are victims of torture, to have their day in court.
Wizner was "surprised and dismayed" when the Obama Justice Department invoked the same state secrets privilege the Bush Administration had used to throw out his clients' court cases.
Wizner takes exception to the conventional wisdom in Washington that "the very notion of criminally investigating Bush Administration officials is laughable." "People said it would be 'criminalizing politics,'" he says. "That's exactly backwards. Not to investigate is to politicize law enforcement."
Thanks to the ACLU, that may be changing. By filing a Freedom of Information Act request for the release of the Bush Administration's "torture memos," the ACLU pushed the Obama Administration to bring to light atrocious crimes. But the fact that the paper trail leads to the very top of the Bush Administration makes prosecuting torture politically risky.
"Not to say it shouldn't happen," says Peter Kornbluh of the National Security Archive. "Just to say it's very, very dicey and dramatic. It remains to be seen if this country could bring itself through the process that Chile, Peru, and Argentina have been through--to address the wrongdoing of its highest level officials. If the Obama Justice Department decides to try to indict Cheney or Bush, that will dominate political discourse in Washington for the entire Administration."
That's exactly what Obama would prefer to avoid.
The ACLU is calling for a truth commission and criminal investigation of those who authorized torture. Obama, after reassuring CIA agents that they would not be prosecuted, recently said he was open to prosecuting the...