Justice vs Politics: Retribution

This is a time for reflection, not retribution. . . . But at a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.


My preference obviously would be to capture or kill him.

Obama, on Bin Laden

Capturing, or especially, killing Bin Laden would be certainly be retribution, would it not?


Why is retribution good in one case and not the other?


To be more specific, the politics of fear. The fear of…..retribution….for prosecuting. Retribution from who? Retribution from the people who supported the torturers. Fear that if justice is pursued, those who would “lose” in the prosecution (even if it is just losing face) would take their retribution politically.

Our national greatness is embedded in America’s ability to right its course in concert with our core values, and to move forward with confidence. That is why we must resist the forces that divide us, and instead come together on behalf of our common future.

Obama, yesterday

Fear that pursuing justice would divide us. Those who would pursue justice are being divisive. We must instead of being a divisive force (by pursuing justice) come together on behalf of a common future….a future where the United States is allowed to torture with no consequences.

A common future where then, since we are allowed to torture, we cannot, honestly, condemn others for torture. A common future then, where torture is allowed. Because otherwise, if we stand up and say that torture is indeed wrong, that the cost would be that the United States would be “divided.”


As if that condition did not already exist.

For fear of a politically divided nation that is already politically divided, we cannot prosecute torture. Because those on the other side of the existing political divide would object and be more divisive than they already are?

THIS is a logical excuse for not prosecuting torturers?

And it is the people who are pushing for prosecution of our government torturing people to death….that are the divisive forces? Asking for the law to be enforced….is divisive?

Today we are engaged in a deadly global struggle for those who would intimidate, torture, and murder people for exercising the most basic freedoms. If we are to win this struggle and spread those freedoms, we must keep our own moral compass pointed in a true direction.

Barack Obama

We are struggling against others, elsewhere, who intimidate, torture, and murder people. But if we struggle against the people in our own government who intimidated, tortured, and murdered people, it is divisive and retributive. Justice would be politically divisive. That is why we cannot pursue it. Politics. The same politics referred to here…

People are very hungry for something new. I think they are interested in being called to be a part of something larger than the sort of small, petty, slash-and-burn politics that we have been seeing over the last several years.

Barack Obama

We cannot trust our government to pursue justice when the only obstacle to justice is the retribution of it’s existing political enemies.

If the people cannot trust their government to do the job for which it exists – to protect them and to promote their common welfare – all else is lost.


How can we put our trust in our government when our government puts politics above the Rule of Law and above Justice, Mr President? When even the good guys put political cynicism above doing the right thing. The cynicism that says that pursuing justice is merely retribution. The cynicism that paints those who stand and fight for justice itself as somehow …selfish and divisive?

In the end, that’s what this election is about. Do we participate in a politics of cynicism or a politics of hope?

Barack Obama

Please consider your own words, President Obama. If you use you power to thwart justice for political ends, even if those ends may be worthy, you are excusing the worst crime, torturing innocent people, torturing people sometimes to death, that humans can commit. You are saying that the ends justify those means. That the ends of political unity, are worth the means of ignoring the Rule of Law and allowing torturers to walk free. For political purposes. That is cynicism, Mr. President.

There is nothing more cynical than saying that we can excuse anything, even the worst crimes known to humanity, that our government does ….merely for the sake of some mythical political or societal unity.

There is nothing more cynical than avoiding doing what is clearly the right thing to do….out of fear of political retribution.


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  1. Photobucket

    • Edger on April 17, 2009 at 8:54 pm


    An emotional appeal to deflect attention away from not prosecuting Bush and Cheney and try to shore up support at the same time.

  2. … nay, I DEMAND, a hat tip!

    See here (at bottom of comment).

    I still haven’t come to any final conclusions about whether or not Obama/Holder will prosecute – there’s some wiggle room there insofar as operatives who tortured before those awful  memos were written.  And maybe some deals were made with underlings to go after the bigger fish.  Or perhaps I’m just in denial.  Regardless, I have yet to come to any conclusions about what is going to be done although I strongly believe we need to keep up and increase the pressure for prosecutions.

    But yeah, the retribution comment got me really upset (as well as the praise for the CIA), as I said in many comments here yesterday.  I guess retribution is only ok for foreigners, not those who hurt foreigners.  I wish more than anything Obama hadn’t said that as I see zero value to that statement, no need whatsoever for him to have made it.

  3. Obama’s FISA vote, when he made statements opposing the bill while running in the primaries, but then supported it because the nomination was sewn up at the time of the vote.  I’ve been pretty supportive of Obama with that FISA vote being the biggest problem I had with him.  

    But as bad as that was, it pales in comparison to letting torturers go free.  If he had to pander to both sides, why not keep the memos secret but prosecute those who tortured?    

    • Edger on April 17, 2009 at 9:22 pm

    … was Obama briefed on torture along with or before or after Pelosi and the others were?

  4. Well, we finally got the long awaited memos, but what a price to have been paid for them.

    I’m wondering if such an edict of immunity to those who actually performed the torture can stand against the laws saying that anyone requested to commit torture must refuse to do so.

    This, from Jordan J. Paust, from the Valparaiso University Law Review (republished with permission) entitled:  Lectures:  THE ABSOLUTE PROHIBITION OF TORTURE AND NECESSARY AND APPROPRIATE SANCTIONS

    A striking feature of every international criminal law treaty is that there is no recognition of any form of immunity for official elites. In fact, Article 27 of the Statute of the ICC expressly affirms that “official capacity as a Head of State or Government, a member of a Government or parliament, an elected representative or a government official shall in no case exempt a person from criminal responsibility” and that “[i]mmunities or special procedural rules which may attach to the official capacity of a person, whether under national or international law, shall not bar the Court from exercising its jurisdiction”39 . . . .

    At least four general types of criminal responsibility exist under international law with respect to torture and other outlawed treatment.

    First, it is obvious that direct perpetrators of violations of the Geneva Conventions, other laws of war, the Convention Against Torture, and crimes against humanity (such as forced disappearance of persons) have direct liability. Leaders who issue authorizations, directives, findings, and orders that instruct others to commit acts that constitute international crimes, such as former President Bush and former Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, may also be prosecuted as direct perpetrators of crimes.40

    Second, any person who aids and abets torture is liable as an aider and abettor before the fact, during the fact, or after the fact.41 Liability exists whether or not the person knows that his or her conduct is criminal or whether or not the conduct of the direct perpetrator of torture is criminal or even constitutes torture.42 Under customary international law, an aider and abettor need only be aware that his or her conduct (which can include inaction) would or does assist a direct perpetrator or facilitates conduct that is criminal.43 In any case, ignorance of the law is no excuse. . . . .

  5. retribution does not exist.  Where there are crimes, they are legally prosecuted.  War crimes, by national and international laws, they are investigated and prosecuted.  That remark of Obama’s was to frame the actual crimes and their punishment in the absolute wrong light.  Imagine how Bush must have been grinning!

    See Jonathan Turley, on the Rachel Maddow Show!

  6. After yesterday, it’s going to take a lot more han “crumbs” to pick me up off the floor.

    Nevertheless, it is good to know that Cong. Nadler is sending his request to President Obama and Attorney General, Eric Holder, to appoint a Special Prosecutor.  He had some very choice comments in his release to the public:

    NEW YORK, N.Y. – Today, Congressman Jerrold Nadler (NY-08), Chair of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, praised President Obama and the Department of Justice for releasing four legal memos on the torture of detainees that had previously been concealed by the Bush administration. Rep. Nadler, however, called on the Obama administration to go further and appoint a special prosecutor to investigate and, if necessary, prosecute those responsible for authorizing the torture. He also said that a Congressional investigation is absolutely warranted. Rep Nadler released the following statement:

    “While I applaud the Obama administration for releasing these torture memos in the spirit of openness and transparency, the memos’ alarming content requires further action. These memos, without a shadow of a doubt, authorized torture and gave explicit instruction on how to carry it out, all the while carefully attempting to maintain a legal fig leaf.

    These memos make it abundantly clear that the Bush administration engaged in torture. Because torture is illegal under American law – as the U.S. is a signatory to the Convention Against Torture – we are legally required to investigate and, when appropriate, to prosecute those responsible for these crimes. . . . .

    His comments go on . . . .

    It would be good to call him and thank him.  Also, call your own reps and ask that they sign on to his letter to Obama and Holder.

    The Spanish Judge ignored the recommendations of the Attorney General,

    Spanish judge keeps Guantanamo probe alive

    By Reuters

    MADRID, April 17 (Reuters) – A Spanish judge considering possible criminal action against six former Bush administration officials for torture at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay defied pressure to drop the case on Friday.

    But Judge Baltasar Garzon, internationally known for trying to extradite former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, accepted that he might not personally take charge of any eventual criminal investigation into officials including former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

    On Thursday, Spain’s attorney general said Garzon should dismiss the complaint brought by human rights lawyers calling for the officials to be prosecuted.

    In a ruling on Friday, Garzon ignored this advice but also avoided a direct confrontation with the attorney general’s office by submitting the case to a lottery system which will now assign it at random to one of the six high court judges.

    “Let it be assigned to the corresponding court,” Garzon said in the ruling.

    The judge who gets the case will now have to decide whether to go ahead of it. Under the system, Garzon will have a one in six chance of getting the case back. . . .

    So, although nothing is yet definitively decided, the lawsuit is still “alive” for the time being.

    Finally, everyone please go and sign No Amnesty for Torturers


  7. signed that one, thanks, tahoe.

    heres the Amnesty I link to their online action page.

    just got their email

    Dear LL,

    In a pivotal moment in our call for accountability, yesterday the Obama administration finally released the four infamous memos crafted to provide legal cover for the U.S. torture program.

    You and I know there is no legal form of torture. But Obama wants us to believe that “this is a time for reflection, not retribution.”

    We’ve done plenty of reflecting, and the information in the memos only confirms what we’ve known all along. Torture is illegal under both domestic and international law and no set of legal memos can change that.

    Within hours of their release, the memos fueled new speculation that there is just too much out there now for Congress to ignore calls for accountability.

    Incredibly, our lobby week is wrapping up today, giving us an amazing opportunity to push Congress on accountability, when they’re most receptive to our calls, both in person and online.

    Send a letter now to Congress calling for a full and independent investigation.

    Before today, major editorial boards from the Boston Globe, Salt Lake City Tribune, and Philadelphia Inquirer threw their hat into the ring, calling for accountability.

    While we may have convinced editorial boards, it’s Congress that has the power to setup independent investigations. This is the last day of our lobby week. While Amnesty members finish up their meetings, let’s hit Congress from both on and offline.

    Send an email to your elected officials and tell them that you want to know the truth about torture. Once members of Congress realize they can’t turn down the buzz about torture in their own districts, they’ll have to confront the issue in Washington.

    The Obama administration has truly taken some important steps to correct past mistakes. Just a week ago, the CIA announced that it is no longer operating any of the secret overseas prisons used to detain terror suspects. While correcting some of these bigger problems certainly puts us on the right path, it doesn’t tell us how we veered so far off in the wrong direction.

    By this time, anyone who isn’t the slightest bit curious about how we became a nation that tortures needs a wake-up call. And we’re just the group to give it to them!

    Thanks for standing with us,

    Njambi Good

    Director, Counter Terror with Justice Campaign

  8. to those on the surface the apperant behavior of a person may appear to make no sense…….

    but to someone in the water who can see a great white circling them below……

    well it may be time to get out of the water…….

    it may even be time to suggest that swimming is not a good idea at this time………

    so to speak…..

    just sayin….

  9. I thought I smelled smoke over here…….

    that was quit a brawl regarding MOC……

    what was up with that ?!?…….

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