Rachel Maddow on what we know now about Bush’s torture program.

We’ve had bits and pieces of information what the Bush Administration was up to back when they were in office, but only now that they’re gone and Obama is releasing some of the classified documents on it is the scale of it all becoming clear. I used to entertain the idea that the torture program Bush and friends set up was an paranoid outgrowth of the events of 9/11, but it appears that they set it up in advance of even that:

Hearing stuff like that makes Obama’s repeated statements that he won’t prosecute the people involved in these programs all the more maddening. At the very least Rumsfeld, Cheney, and probably Bush himself should be tried for war crimes along with any of the lawyers who came up with the bullshit arguments in defense of these programs. If they’re allowed to get away with this then the next time they get into power they’ll feel like they can do it again and they probably will.

I love my country, but I’ve never been more ashamed of it than I am today with the revelation of just how far we’ve gone in breaking the principles we once stood for. These people need to be brought to justice and made to answer for what they’ve done.

34 thoughts on “Rachel Maddow on what we know now about Bush’s torture program.

  1. I just don’t get why they did it anyway other than just being mean and getting revenge.  They have always proven that torture is NOT an effective means to gather information since eventually the person is going to break and say what you want them to just to get it to stop whether it is true or not.

    I am just flabbergasted.

    *sigh*

  2. Actually, to make you feel a little better at least the last I heard they are going to go after people, just not the CIA agents who actually followed what was then the legal standard. There has been talk, from the current admin., that the people who made it into law could face legal action. I myself am just curious if we are at least going to do that but, that is the official stance right now. Here to hoping.

  3. Back to thread.

    Obama has a fine line to tread.  Already he has republicons screaming and shouting about socialism and ‘not governing from the middle’- not sure where they get ‘not representing the people’ from, as it appears he is doing what he said he would during the campaign. 

    If he goes after Bush, Cheney etc it will be spun to look like revenge.  Plus which court?  I doubt you could find 12 US citizens who haven’t made their mind up on this, and would listen to reasonable arguments.  DC only recognises international courts when it is prosecuting, not defending.

  4. They should be put on trial, and hopefully convicted. Bush and Cheney included. Republicans can use their demagoguery and red herrings to try to distract from the issue, to even suggest that water bordering is not torture. Confusing people with nonsense and gibberish is the only tool the Republican party has left, and that tool has been working less and less as time has gone on. The law should be followed, torture is criminal and immoral, not to mention ineffective. Republicans claim to be a party of values, but this is a good example of why that is not true. Torture and Banana Republic disregard for the law are not values. I hate that Party more and more with each passing day, as they only seem to get worse, even after the beatings they took in ‘06 and ‘08. Now people are starting to jump that ship, specifically Arlen Specter. Smart move.

  5. The bottom line is, if Obama goes after Bush then every future party change of Presidency will probably devolve into the same line of prosecution as penalty for regime change. That doesn’t make for better democracy, that makes for Presidents consolidating their power even more just to protect themselves from the inevitable. If Bush was going to be prosecuted it should have been by a Congress impeaching him out of office while he was serving his term. That would have been a proper message to send to the executive, and at least consistent with past allegations of criminal behavior.

    I’m not saying I like it much, but I’m fine with that. The Republicans are still reeling from the backlash of Bush’s presidency trying to get a handle on the public and their own identities. That’s not enough punishment, but it’s some and I’ll happily exchange complete satisfaction for a stronger republic.

  6. I’d like to say I believe justice will prevail; however, considering how long it has taken for all this to come out, and how short-lived is the memory of our populace, the Bush Six will probably get off scott-free. If you’d told me this could happen in my country, I would never have believed it. But then, I thought we’d always have the Bill of Rights, too…
    I think this whole approach on the President’s part has been a well-orchestrated, behind-the-scenes deal to put the onus on the Justice Department and away from the Executive Branch and Legislature. Hopefully, prosecutions are made, folks brought to trial, and it doesn’t just appear to be payback by the Dems. We’ll see how this all plays out, huh? Great post.

  7. It was perfectly practical, perfectly in the country’s interests for Republicans to have impeached Clinton, but we cannot put Republicans on trial for war crimes? What happened to the Republican party when they impeached Clinton? Nothing negative, little serious backlash, really; they got Bush elected for two terms and retained a Republican congress for years. Yet people are getting apoplectic at the notion of putting Bush’s lawyers on trial, let alone Bush and Cheney themselves. The law rarely seems to apply to Republicans, they can do whatever they like and it is called “politics’ when they get punished for their actions. Well, its not politics, its the law. What will hurt our republic is lack of concern for that law.

  8. I think Obama is putting them on trial in the court of public opinion.  That’s the court that matters most to him because in the long run, as it rules, so goes the nation.  He is well aware of the power of martyrdom among the faithful and wants to deny that to the cons. 

    And no, it wasn’t OK to impeach Clinton for the fiddly stuff they did.  It undermined and made almost useless the whole process of impeachment.  Along came Bush – a president for whom we really needed impeachment – and the tool was dulled by misuse.

  9. And no, it wasn’t OK to impeach Clinton for the fiddly stuff they did.  It undermined and made almost useless the whole process of impeachment.  Along came Bush – a president for whom we really needed impeachment – and the tool was dulled by misuse.

    Exactly. The last couple of decades of Republicans have dulled the criminal justice system as much as they’ve dulled our credibility in world affairs. You can’t just turn around and act as if there’s no damage done or you’ll ruin the instruments further.

  10. Damaged instruments or not, the legal system exists for a reason. I do not believe that it helps our republic to let these crimes go unpunished. Of course Bush and Cheney almost certainly will never see trial (though they deserve to) but the lawyers and perhaps some others should. War crimes are no small thing, and perhaps this sends a message, particularly to those on the right, that when they return to power they cannot act so frivolously about the law. Many thought it impractical and potentially damaging to the country to go after Nixon but, in hindsight, is anyone really sorry that it happened?
    And, yes, I understand the “martyrdom” aspect of it, but you can use that as an excuse for not pursuing legal charges for anyone for any reason. I believe that in this case that is a risk you are just going to have to take. Perhaps my dislike of the Bush administration is clouding my judgment, but when you break the law you are supposed to be put on trial; and that includes Republicans.

  11. Perhaps my dislike of the Bush administration is clouding my judgment, but when you break the law you are supposed to be put on trial

    Yes, I think your dislike for the Bush administration is clouding your judgment. I think the guy was an ignorant, malicious bastard too, but I’m not going to burn down the future of the Executive branch just because he shit all over the White House floor.

    Besides, I’d rather the country was focused on the economic crisis than lighting their mob justice torches for an ex-President and huddled in fearful corners about swine flu. Old news and no news doesn’t defeat real problems, that’s part of my problem with modern Republicans anyways… they basically fought one war by focusing on the last one and excused anything one President did because of the distraction of the sex life of another?

  12. If Bush was going to be prosecuted it should have been by a Congress impeaching him out of office while he was serving his term. That would have been a proper message to send to the executive, and at least consistent with past allegations of criminal behavior.

    I think Obama is putting them on trial in the court of public opinion.  That’s the court that matters most to him because in the long run, as it rules, so goes the nation.  He is well aware of the power of martyrdom among the faithful and wants to deny that to the cons.

    Precisely!  angry

  13. Some would say the executive has too much power already, certainly that power grew to excess levels during Bush’s tenure and perhaps it would be a good precedent to show that presidents cannot so blatantly violate the law. But Bush and the presidency aside, as we already know that nothing will happen to him, I do not see a problem with going after the lawyers, which I think is the main focus in the first place. I don’t think that this sort of thing can be relegated to the category of old news, as this sort of thing will happen again and again if no one pays for it now. Nixon did not spend any time in prison, but some of his underlings did, and in my view tha should at least be what happens here.

  14. So you want to prosecute the lawyers for being wrong about a presented opinion, because that legal advise was then used to justify what probably is an illegal activity. That’s a huge can of worms.

    Lawyers couldn’t even defend themselves from prosecution on that basis, because it would amount to them supporting one criminal act in defense of another. Most importantly though, a legal opinion given to the President, given the rather vague and sometimes open-ended nature of that office (rightly or wrongly), is going to be inconsistent with normal law already.

    I can’t legally start a war or spring someone from prison on my say so, but Presidents can. Demanding that the office of legal counsel to the President act like he’s not the President, or vet their opinions against public opinion else they suffer later incarceration for pissing off the wrong people, makes that office fairly useless.

    You might as well get rid of the legal counsel to the President, and then I guess we all better hope that all the Presidents in the future are pretty good lawyers themselves. Or maybe future Presidents would just hire private lawyers to counsel them, and the People would be out of the loop on what’s going on there thanks to privacy laws.

    I agree that Executive power has been vastly and wrongly increased since the 1930s and it would be a good idea to check it soon. That’s not a area that needs to be tread upon punitively in the courts though, it’s a job for a healthy legislature taking back powers and responsibilities they’ve waived over time in the interest of expediency.

  15. I think we should be cautious of slippery slope reasoning. The president’s authority will not be completely paralyzed by putting some people on trial for torturing and perhaps unintentionally killing prisoners of war. These are serious crimes. I agree that the Obama administration should be careful about this but, once more, republics are not benefited by disregard for the law.
    I suppose we will just have to wait and see what happens.

  16. The president’s authority will not be completely paralyzed by putting some people on trial for torturing and perhaps unintentionally killing prisoners of war.

    I never said or meant to suggest that the President’s authority would be paralyzed or diminished. I meant to suggest that the logical response would be for such an action to lead to less transparency in government, and more consolidation of power simply to protect future Presidents from what will, as a matter of course, become a cyclical process of election and court action.

    Prosecuting the lawyers wouldn’t paralyze or diminish Presidential authority either. It would simply lead to a useless office of legal opinion, forcing future Presidents to rely on their own judgment.

    republics are not benefited by disregard for the law.

    Neither are they benefited from punitive prosecution or tyrannies of majorities. Like I’ve said, I think they were wrong and possibly criminally wrong, but the fact of the matter was they presented a rather vague legal opinion to an office that has rather vague legal powers. I’d welcome Congress stepping in and writing new language into law that would prevent such a happening in the future, but every single argument I’ve seen seems to revolve around the unspoken notion: “Now that we have the power to do so, we should toss some of those bastards in jail.” That’s simply the wrong ideal to use, ever, when pursuing justice. It’s what led us to the War in Iraq in the first place. Just because you have the power to do so it’s not always sufficient or proper to exercise that power.

  17. “Now that we have the power to do so, we should toss some of those bastards in jail.” That’s simply the wrong ideal to use, ever, when pursuing justice. It’s what led us to the War in Iraq in the first place. Just because you have the power to do so it’s not always sufficient or proper to exercise that power.

    Ramen!

  18. I don’t think “too big to fail” is a good legal policy either. Hiding behind the importance of your office, suggesting that you cannot be prosecuted because it will hurt the nation, is the sort of thinking that kills republics. High office does not give you immunity. Would we be taking this view of how a government should operate if some other country was doing it? People are fond of pointing out that we prosecuted the Japanese for this sort of thing. It seems hypocritical to me to suggest that the U.S. should not be held to the same standard.
    This notion that this is all to do with vindictiveness is starting to seem like something of a red herring. If Democrats behaved this way I would want to see Democrats in prison. It is about law, not politics. What would the Bush administration have to have done before we admit that at least some of them should be put on trial? Nuke Switzerland? Using the Blagojevich defense that “they’re just out to get me” is something that any government official who gets caught will always hide behind.

  19. Using the Blagojevich defense that “they’re just out to get me” is something that any government official who gets caught will always hide behind.

    As Nixon discovered, paranoids do have enemies.  tongue wink

  20. Again, I’m not arguing “too big to fail” either. Of course it can fail, the whole two terms of Bush’s presidency was a failure. It’s not failing now though, and crippling the office through court action and not legislation seems rather obsessive and after the fact. It’s a useless witch-hunt that damages the office rather than reforms it.

    You want to talk reform so it never happens again? I’m right there with you.

    You want to kick Bush into the media spotlight for the next eight years though? No, that’s not good for the country and it won’t accomplish anything except giving Bush supporters ammunition. The Wicked Witch is dead, it’s pointless to keep on squeezing the flying monkeys for people’s personal satisfaction.

    What would the Bush administration have to have done before we admit that at least some of them should be put on trial?

    Still be in office. Not have been given outlandish, unreasonable amounts of power inconsistent with the intent of the Founding Fathers. Performed an act which is not arguably covered under the provisions of Executive Powers.

    People are fond of pointing out that we prosecuted the Japanese for this sort of thing.

    I’m glad people are fond of it, but it was decades ago and laws change and are reinterpreted, and probably more importantly we’d just nuked them into surrendering so we could charge them for eating rice and pretty much gotten away with it. Whites and blacks can marry each other and pretty much everyone agrees that it’s probably still a crime if the guy you kill is a homosexual these days too.

    In any case, it’s a red herring to suggest that we’re legally being inconsistent. If we weren’t often legally inconsistent there would be all sorts of progressive legal realities stopped in their tracks. Bush and company tried to reinterpret the powers of the Executive in a way that was consistent with their own legal theories. The check for that is not to prosecute them, but to close that option for interpretation by explicit language in law.

    Anyways though, when you’re prosecuting foreign nationals after a successful military action you’re really not in a normal legal place. You’re dealing with sovereign powers and that’s not a comfortable fit with any modern legal theories I think.

  21. Well, just to get this out of the way; yes, I agree that it would have been preferable if Congress had stopped Bush, rather than having to go through this now. Yes, I would like to see legislation passed so that this does not happen again. I think we can agree on these issues, we do not have to keep going over them. We can wish that a lot of things had gone differently.
    But I do not see that there is a statute of limitations on this sort of issue. Simply being out of office is not immunity. It just isn’t. Not to use an unfair and exaggerated comparison, but no one thought twice of putting ex-Nazis on trial simply because they were no longer in power. If you commit a war crime, you take quite a big risk, and it is important that people realize that it is a big risk. If we do not prosecute people for this then, as I said earlier, perhaps it will lead people to believe that they can do these sort of things and get away with it.
    Here is the thing about prosecuting the Japanese; we didn’t prosecute them for eating rice, and we did not prosecute them for wearing kimonos, we prosecuted them for an actual crime which is still illegal today under the Geneva Convention. These are not frivolous crimes. I am well aware that laws bend and change, but I am sorry to have to inform you that the laws against torture have not gone the way of Jim Crow, so you are using a false comparison. And it was not simply the Japanese, an American sheriff was also apparently prosecuted for water boarding a suspect.
    I am sorry that you consider it “obsessive” to prosecute people for actual crimes, but that is the risk one takes when they break laws. Anyone who commits a crime would like to think that they are the victim, would like to think that the bad guy is the one who charges them, and it might seem convenient to find fault with the law and not with the criminal, but that does not change the reality of the situation that real laws were broken. Again, this sort of argument reminds me of Blagojevich saying “if they can do it to me they can do it to anybody.” This is standard. Richard Nixon never committed a crime, Charles Manson never committed a crime; someone was out to get them. These are not serious arguments. Torture being illegal is not something that some crazy liberal group came up with in their own minds; it has been illegal for quite some time now, and I am tired of the notion that was so dominant during the Bush era that people in government can get away with whatever they like simply because of false notions that it will be better for the country. Concern for laws is what would be better for the country. And consistency is not a red herring.
    Anyway, I respect your opinion, and I understand your reasoning, I just disagree. But we will see what happens.

  22. Not to use an unfair and exaggerated comparison, but no one thought twice of putting ex-Nazis on trial simply because they were no longer in power.

    And again, there’s a difference because the Nazis were an occupied country.

    Here is the thing about prosecuting the Japanese

    Irrelevant. The actual fact of the matter is that we prosecuted them because they were defeated. Whether or not any crimes by previous definitions are ever established EVERY victorious power penalizes the losers in a military conflict. Claiming special status ignores the commonality of the practice.

    I am sorry that you consider it “obsessive” to prosecute people for actual crimes, but that is the risk one takes when they break laws.

    I’m sorry you’re certain that a crime happened, when legal experts you and I both disagree with differed in explicit opinion, referring to an office of government with bloated, inexplicit powers during conflict. Frankly I think the powers of the Presidency are a mess, but because they’re a mess I’m pretty sure it’s a mistake to assume that the President can’t order some really awful things done if he jumps through a few hoops. It shouldn’t be, but the Founding Father’s hope that we’d be ruled by Congress more than by a President really hasn’t come to pass and fades more each day.

    Again, this sort of argument reminds me of Blagojevich saying “if they can do it to me they can do it to anybody.”

    And yours reminds me of the Salem Witch Trials, desperate to prosecute someone because of what you find offensive you’re ready to hang the whole village.

    Torture being illegal is not something that some crazy liberal group came up with in their own minds; it has been illegal for quite some time now, and I am tired of the notion that was so dominant during the Bush era that people in government can get away with whatever they like simply because of false notions that it will be better for the country.

    That’s a wonderful way of subtly implying that I’m not a liberal to try an bolster your argument, btw.

    For what it’s worth, I agree. Torture has been illegal for some time. Criminal statutes are specific things though, and again, while I disagree with the presented opinion, I can see how the Bush Administration navigated through the specifics and arrived at a vague place where they believed that certain varieties of things sometimes considered torture weren’t explicitly declared to be improper treatment in some cases. Just like I disagree with their parsing of “enemy combatant” but simply because I disagree with that legal opinion doesn’t mean they were explicitly wrong as much following a troublesome loophole in definitions to arrive at a legal gray area.

    If it were people exploiting loopholes in their taxes instead of torture, would that make more sense to you how I’m approaching it?

    Anyway, I respect your opinion, and I understand your reasoning, I just disagree. But we will see what happens.

    Cool. smile

  23. Here is the thing about prosecuting the Japanese; we didn’t prosecute them for eating rice, and we did not prosecute them for wearing kimonos, we prosecuted them for an actual crime which is still illegal today under the Geneva Convention.

    And, which page of signatures contain that of terrorist organizations? Legality presupposes some specific codes with some specific parameters. Ignorance of law is not necessarily a defense, but lack of jurisdiction is, and always has been, a proper defense. Or, did you not learn that in the pursuit of your JD?

  24. “I love my country-”

    After news like this, and the general wasteland this place is, I have to seriously question the mental health of those who still claim to love America.

  25. After news like this, and the general wasteland this place is, I have to seriously question the mental health of those who still claim to love America.

    I don’t think it’s a problem;  I love my country the way one might love a family member suffering from an addiction.  Or in the case of this country, several addictions.

    Also it’s a big chunk of self-interest.  I’d much rather see my country put right than have to leave.

  26. Irrelevant. The actual fact of the matter is that we prosecuted them because they were defeated. Whether or not any crimes by previous definitions are ever established EVERY victorious power penalizes the losers in a military conflict. Claiming special status ignores the commonality of the practice.

    The Japanese are only the most famous example. As I stated, there are other examples, which you are ignoring.

    And yours reminds me of the Salem Witch Trials, desperate to prosecute someone because of what you find offensive you’re ready to hang the whole village.

    I don’t see where I have said anything that even approaches this claim. Comparing a paranoid hunt for “witches” to seeking prosecution for people who committed international war crimes is quite an inflated, illegitimate comparison.
    leguru said..

    And, which page of signatures contain that of terrorist organizations? Legality presupposes some specific codes with some specific parameters. Ignorance of law is not necessarily a defense, but lack of jurisdiction is, and always has been, a proper defense. Or, did you not learn that in the pursuit of your JD?

    I don’t have a JD, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.
    I suppose those individuals at the Red Cross who believe that there is a basis for putting the Bush administration on trial for war crimes do not have your legal expertise.

    As for Sandy’s point… maybe I do have an illness, but I do still love this country. I dislike the government, however, at least the prior administration.

  27. The Japanese are only the most famous example. As I stated, there are other examples, which you are ignoring.

    How can I be ignoring the other examples when I stated that it’s a nearly universal notion. It’s what happens when nations collide in warfare and sovereign protections break down. Whether you’re putting the losers on trial for acts of war against you or you simply torch their villages and steal their women you’re operating under the same legal auspice of “to the victor go the spoils.”

    How you parse it is for the politics back home. It’s already been a breakdown of civilized behavior in the most extreme case to call it warfare at all, pretending there is a legal commonality to the treatment of defeated powers really doesn’t recognize the uniqueness of each situation. The “rules” apply as much as any victorious nation chooses to have them apply, written as they require at each moment. Everything else is justification and rationalization.

    seeking prosecution for people who committed international war crimes is quite an inflated, illegitimate comparison.

    Alleged war crimes, of which you’re willing to go after their legal advisers to get your “justice” because you’ve said you fear that the people you think are truly responsible are perhaps beyond the justice system. It reeks of “someone’s gotta pay for this and I don’t care who!” If that isn’t a witch hunt, I don’t know what is.

    Again, putting in another context, if the criminal acts you were alleging were acts of organized crime what you’d be proposing would be arresting the mob lawyers for advising their clients because you couldn’t touch the mob bosses. Maybe people do that too, because they feel justified – but it doesn’t change the maliciousness, the perversion of the system.

    I suppose those individuals at the Red Cross who believe that there is a basis for putting the Bush administration on trial for war crimes do not have your legal expertise.

    What makes the Red Cross an expert on the law? Doctors and lawyers might drive the same cars, but they have different specialties. wink

  28. I suppose those individuals at the Red Cross who believe that there is a basis for putting the Bush administration on trial for war crimes do not have your legal expertise.

    Eighty or ninety percent of those at the Red Cross probably believe in Sky Daddy, too, but that does not make their belief a reason for action.

  29. Let’s take a hypothetical situation. The Obama regime relaxes abortion laws – over the next four or eight years abortions are performed under these laws. Then the Republicans win back the presidency and go on a fire and brimstone rampage. They roll back the laws and retroactively legislate that abortions performed in violation of the laws they’ve decided are “moral and just” are illegal – and start going after abortion clinics, doctors, nurses, the women who aborted….

    That’s why they won’t go after the torturers – it’s not just a can of worms, it’s a silo full.

  30. The difference here is that abortion is currently legal and thus even if the law changes it doesn’t affect was has already happened. The torture was NEVER legal to begin with. That’s a big difference.

  31. I’m going to avoid the moral argument and go for the legal question as follows.

    Bottom rung CIA operative X uses techniques having been informed by their superior that they are legal, who’s been told by their boss, who’s been told by their legal counsel, who’s been told by their boss, who’s….etc etc

    How far down the chain does the legal liabilty extend (leaving out the moral culpability) – should we prosecute CIA minion X following orders having been informed it’s legal to do so (again leaving aside the “unlawful orders” argument).

  32. Personally I’d be happy if we just went after the higher-ups—Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rove, even Bush himself—who authorized it, but it’s pretty clear from the Nuremberg trials that “I was just following orders” isn’t a valid defense.

    I’m sure being told “I was assured what I did was legal” isn’t much of a comfort to the people to whom such illegal actions were taken. Would you be happy with such an argument if you were subjected to torture?

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