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Obama and Holder Must Prosecute War Crimes or Become Guilty of Them Themselves

Dave Lindorff

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The dithering and ducking going on in the Obama White House and the

Holder Justice Department over the crimes of the Bush administration

are taking on a comic aspect.

On the one hand, we have President Obama assuring us that under his

administration, there will be respect for the rule of law, and on the

other hand we have this one-time constitutional law professor and his

attorney general declaiming that there is no need for the appointment

of a prosecutor to bring charges against the people in the last

administration, in the CIA, in the National Security Agency and in the

Defense Department and the military who clearly have broken the law in

serious and felonious ways.

What gets silly is that America is either a nation of laws…or it

isn’t. It is either a place where “nobody is above the law”…or it isn’t.

There is really no middle ground here.

The latest solid and incontrovertible evidence of outrageous and

criminal behavior by the White House is the discovery—and the public

release by the Obama administration—of documentary evidence that the

CIA committed not just torture but willful obstruction of justice by

destroying video tapes of some 92 interrogations of terrorism suspects

and captives in the so-called Bush “War” on Terror. Plus the release of

a stack of nine legal opinions by White House and Justice Department

lawyers providing legal cover for torture, including executive orders

from President Bush and directives from then Secretary of Defense

Donald Rumsfeld authorizing torture.

We now know that those legal opinions were so blatantly illegal and

simply designed to provide cover that the authors--former Deputy

Assistant Attorney General John Yoo (now ensconsed in a tenured faculty

position at the law school of UC Berkeley where he teaches, with a

straight face, constitutional law, and writes a syndicated opinion

column on similar topics), and his then boss, Jay Bybee, then Assistant

Attorney General for the Office of White House Legal Counsel, and now

an appeals court judge for the Ninth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals

in San Francisco—had them classified, simply to hide them from public

inspection. For those memos alone, Yoo should be fired from his

teaching post and disbarred, while Bybee, who failed to mention his

activities during his judicial confirmation hearings, should be

impeached. That would just be for starters.

Setting aside the many other crimes of the Bush administration for

a moment—the authorization of a massive warrantless electronic spying

program on Americans, the use of military personnel to actively spy on

groups engaged in lawful First Amendment activities, the lying about

reasons for going to war in Iraq, etc.--the issue of officially

sanctioned acts of torture by American forces, which we know occurred,

is not just a crime under the US Criminal Code, which since 1996 has

incorporated the Geneva Conventions specifically as US law. The

planning and sanctioning of torture, as well as the covering up of

torture, and the failure to punish torture are also crimes.

The Obama administration may, on the basis of whatever twisted

political logic it is operating under, not want to appoint a prosecutor

and indict the war criminals of the Bush administration. But this is

not a question of whether or not to push for health care or labor law

reform, where the Obama administration has a right to consider what the

political pros and cons are of moving forward. Here, we’re talking

about enforcing the law. There are no options but acting. Not only does

a commitment to the rule of law require prosecution here, right up to

the president and vice president. The failure to prosecute

war criminals is in itself a crime, meaning that there is a narrow

window of time to act before Obama himself, and his attorney general

Eric Holder, will be open to charges that they too are war criminals.

If we don’t get a prosecution going of Bush administration

officials responsible for war crimes, the day will come when not only

will George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld

be unable to travel abroad. Barack Obama and Eric Holder will also be

confined to US soil.

To join the campaign to make the Obama Administration obey the law and prosecute war crimes by the last administration, go here.


DAVE LINDORFF is a Philadelphia-based journalist. His latest

book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006 and now

available in signed collector’s edition hardcover or in paperback

direct from the author). Order from, where you can also read other work by the author.

Author's Website:

Author's Bio: Dave Lindorff, a columnist for Counterpunch, is author of several recent books ("This Can't Be Happening! Resisting the Disintegration of American Democracy" and "Killing Time: An Investigation into the Death Penalty Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal"). His latest book, coauthored with Barbara Olshanshky, is "The Case for Impeachment: The Legal Argument for Removing President George W. Bush from Office (St. Martin's Press, May 2006). His writing is available at