It just sounds too good to be true:

In early December, in a highly unusual move, a federal court in New York agreed to rehear a lawsuit against former Attorney General John Ashcroft brought by a Canadian citizen, Maher Arar. (Arar was a victim of the administration’s extraordinary rendition program: he was seized by U.S. officials in 2002 while in transit through Kennedy Airport and deported to Syria, where he was tortured.) Then, on Dec. 15, the Supreme Court revived a lawsuit against Donald Rumsfeld by four Guantánamo detainees alleging abuse there—a reminder that the court, unlike the White House, will extend Constitutional protections to foreigners at Gitmo.

Finally, in the same week the Senate Armed Service Committee, led by Carl Levin and John McCain, released a blistering report specifically blaming key administration figures for prisoner mistreatment and interrogation techniques that broke the law. The bipartisan report reads like a brief for the prosecution—calling, for example, Rumsfeld’s behavior a “direct cause” of abuse. Analysts say it gives a green light to prosecutors, and supplies them with political cover and factual ammunition. Administration officials, with a few exceptions, deny wrongdoing. Vice President Dick Cheney says there was nothing improper with U.S. interrogation techniques—”we don’t do torture,” he repeated in an ABC interview on Dec. 15. The government blamed the worst abuses, such as those at Abu Ghraib, on a few bad apples…

A growing group of advocates are now instead calling for a South African-style truth and reconciliation commission. Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, says that although “we know what went on,” “knowledge and a change in practices are not sufficient: there must be acknowledgment and repudiation as well.” He favors the creation of a nonpartisan commission of inquiry with a professional staff and subpoena power, calling it “the only way to definitively repudiate this ugly chapter in U.S. history.”

But for those interested in tougher sanctions, one other possibility looms. Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights and author of “The Trial of Donald Rumsfeld,” points out that over 20 countries now have universal jurisdiction laws that would allow them to indict U.S. officials for torture if America doesn’t do it itself.

I am of two minds on the issue of prosecuting Bush Administration officials for the war crimes that they so obviously committed. I believe that in specific instances where we have actionable evidence against a particular individual (e.g., Vice President Cheney brazenly admitting that he authorized and approved of torture), a prosecution should be untertaken.

However, in the more nebulous realm of who-authorized-what-when, I can understand the incoming Obama administration’s hesitancy to be seen as opening wide the floodgates of Democratic Prosecution Fiesta 2009. In the broader case against the wide-ranging illegality of Bush and his cronies, I agree with the approach of a South Africa-style truth and reconcilation commission. The biggest thing we need to do in this effort is bring sunshine to the darkest, dankest corners of criminality the Bush administration let loose upon the world. Although stringing all of the evildoers up by their toes for their crimes would be satisfying in the extreme, if we are somehow able to find out the full extent of America’s crimes in the War on Terror (TM), this would probably be enough for me.

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