Obama recognizes rule of law

Ryan Day

Obama made a decision worthy of applause over the weekend when he went on record saying that the decision whether to prosecute the Bush administration lawyers that authorized torture was not his own, but instead the decision of the Attorney General, Eric Holder.
It is often difficult to remember that this decision is not left up to Obama, especially with the comments made both by Obama himself and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel. Obama, before the release of the torture memos, said, “In releasing these memos, it is our intention to assure those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that they will not be subject to prosecution.” This statement seems to imply that he made some decision as to who would be prosecuted.
Emmanuel recently said on ABC’s program “This Week,” “Those who devised policy, he believes that they were – should not be prosecuted either, and that’s not the place that we go – as he said in that letter, and I would really recommend people look at the full statement – not the letter, the statement – in that second paragraph, ‘this is not a time for retribution.’ It’s time for reflection. It’s not a time to use our energy and our time in looking back and any sense of anger and retribution.”
This has been the stance of the White House in regards to torture prosecutions since the inauguration of Obama. In my opinion, this is just an example of playing politics and appeasing the Republican Party in the name of “bipartisanship.”
It is the job of the Department of Justice to stay out of playing politics. The decisions made by the Attorney General and the department are meant to be strictly legal.
This has been practiced over the course of history, with the notable example being Nixon Attorney General Eliot Richardson refusing to fire Watergate Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox despite Nixon’s wishes and threatening to fire him.
The “look to the future” and “avoid retribution” reasoning that the Obama administration has given in the past for foregoing prosecution of Bush administration officials involved in torture are nothing short of political.
Quite frankly, this issue of bipartisanship – or any other type of political appeasement, really – has no business influencing the legal decisions of the Justice Department. The Department of Justice is obligated to follow the law regardless of what the political ramifications may or may not be.
In recognizing that the decision is not his, perhaps Obama has opened the door to strictly legal proceedings in cases of torture in the United States. In the face of mounting pressure to at least investigate the situations outlined in the torture memos, it seems that the day may be coming that many have been calling for since the inaugurations of Obama – the day on which those that authorized the use of torture in the United States are prosecuted for the crimes that they committed.