Obama's justice department grants final immunity to Bush's CIA torturers: By closing two cases of detainees tortured to death, Obama has put the US beyond any accountability under the rule of law
by Glenn Greenwald
The Obama administration's aggressive, full-scale whitewashing of the "war on terror" crimes committed by Bush officials is now complete. Thursday, Attorney General Eric Holder announced the closing without charges of the only two cases under investigation relating to the US torture program: one that resulted in the 2002 death of an Afghan detainee at a secret CIA prison near Kabul, and the other the 2003 death of an Iraqi citizen while in CIA custody at Abu Ghraib. This decision, says the New York Times Friday, "eliminat[es] the last possibility that any criminal charges will be brought as a result of the brutal interrogations carried out by the CIA".
To see what a farce this is, it is worthwhile briefly to review the timeline of how Obama officials acted to shield Bush torturers from all accountability. During his 2008 campaign for president, Obama repeatedly vowed that, while he opposed "partisan witch-hunts", he would instruct his attorney general to "immediately review" the evidence of criminality in these torture programs because "nobody is above the law." Yet, almost immediately after winning the 2008 election, Obama, before he was even inaugurated, made clear that he was opposed to any such investigations, citing what he called "a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards".
Throughout the first several months of his presidency, his top political aides, such as the chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, and his press secretary, Robert Gibbs, publicly – and inappropriately – pressured the justice department to refrain from any criminal investigations. Over and over, they repeated the Orwellian mantra that such investigations were objectionable because "we must look forward, not backward". As Gibbs put it in April 2009, when asked to explain Obama's opposition, "the president is focused on looking forward. That's why."
On 16 April 2009, Obama himself took the first step in formalizing the full-scale immunity he intended to bestow on all government officials involved even in the most heinous and lethal torture. On that date, he decreed absolute immunity for any official involved in torture provided that it comported with the permission slips produced by Bush department of justice (DOJ) lawyers which authorized certain techniques. "This is a time for reflection, not retribution," the new president so movingly observed in his statement announcing this immunity. Obama added:
[N]othing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past … we must resist the forces that divide us, and instead come together on behalf of our common future.
Note how, in Obama's new formulation, those who believed that Bush officials should be held criminally accountable for their torture crimes – should be subjected to the rule of law on equal terms with ordinary citizens – were now scorned as "the forces that divide us". On the same day, Holder issued his own statement arguing that "it would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the justice department."
But at least this limited immunity left open the possibility of prosecuting those agents who went beyond the limits of the DOJ memos in how they tortured: in other words, those "rogue" torturers who used brutality and savagery beyond even what was permitted by Bush lawyers. On several occasions, Holder had flamboyantly leaked that he was horrified by what he read in certain case files about detainees who were severely injured by torture or even killed by it – there were more than 100 detainees who died while in US custody – and that he could not, in good conscience, simply sweep all of that under the rug.
As a result, in August 2009, Holder announced a formal investigation to determine whether criminal charges should be brought in over 100 cases of severe detainee abuse involving "off-the-books methods" such as "mock execution and threatening a prisoner with a gun and a power drill", as well as threats that "prisoners [would be] made to witness the sexual abuse of their relatives." But less than two years later, on 30 June 2011, Holder announced that of the more than 100 cases the justice department had reviewed, there would be no charges brought in any of them – except two.
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