Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality 

Prosecute Them All
The Conservative Case For Investigations

By David G. Young

Washington DC, August 25, 2009 --  

The American right would be wise to support investigations of Bush-era abuses.

Yesterday's appointment of a special prosecutor1 to investigate allegations of CIA torture is but the opening round of prosecutions for government abuses during the terror-induced panic of the past decade.

The investigation has kicked off with a partisan flare. It was initiated by a liberal Democratic attorney general and instigated by the even more liberal American Civil Liberties Union to look into the actions taken during a Republican administration. Predictably, Republican politicians are falling in line by criticizing the investigation with chest-thumping rhetoric.2 Trouble is, these Republicans are fighting on the wrong side of their own movement.

Although it may not be obvious at first, America's right-wing should be wholeheartedly in favor of investigating past government abuses -- indeed, it is far more in their interests than it is in the interests of mainstream Democrats.

First, consider the moral case. Though twice nominated by the Republican Party, President Bush was a conservative heretic. His foreign wars exploded government spending and expanded the power of government at the expense of individuals. Under Bush's direction the NSA wiretapped Americans' calls, the Justice Department denied Americans basic rights (it held Americans like Jose Padilla prisoner without trial as "enemy combatants") and the government created a huge new bureaucracy with the TSA and the Department of Homeland Security.

During the struggle against the much more powerful adversary of the Soviet Union, President Reagan did none of these things. Instead of being seen as an enemy of liberty, he was a champion of it. Today, statues of Reagan appear all over the liberated countries of Europe's former Soviet block. It's hard to imagine that Bush will enjoy this same fate.

Conservative Americans must look back to their roots. WWJD, in this case, is What Would Jefferson Do? The answer is clear -- he and the other founding fathers would be appalled by the Bush administration's actions described above. The American Revolution was fought against the overreaching security apparatus of the British occupation, and the Bill of Rights was codified to protect against similar abuses in the future. Many in the Bush administration have betrayed both the letter and spirit of that document.

Right-wingers who believe emergency powers were a good idea in Bush's hands, must consider whether they support Obama's possession of these very same powers. If detaining alleged Islamists without trial and tapping their phones without a warrant are acceptable emergency powers, how would they like it if Obama applied the same powers to anti-abortion activists? The only way to keep America free is to limit government abuse of power regardless of who is in charge.

While Americans waffle and ponder about whether to investigate and prosecute Bush administration officials, others are not standing still. Zealous prosecutors in Spain, using their legal doctrine of universal jurisdiction, are considering filing charges against several high-ranking officials for their role in the torture of prisoners.3 If America does not do so, Spain surely will. This would be a true outrage. How dare a formerly fascist country with a socialist government lecture the home of the Statue of Liberty about civil rights.

Finally, as a purely practical matter, conservatives should support investigations because they will keep politicians busy. Recall the policy stagnation that occurred during the Monica Lewinsky and Clinton impeachment period. Every hour the Obama administration spends focusing on these investigations is an hour not spent expanding the size of the government with new federal programs. Special prosecutors aren't free, but they are a million fold cheaper than a new government-run health system.

Left-leaning Americans are well aware of this. President Obama opposes these investigations precisely because they distract from his broader agenda. The attorney general initially targeted CIA because it is lower-profile and less polarizing than the more politically charged targets in the Bush Justice Department and the Department of Defense. Right-leaning Americans should wholeheartedly support these investigations right up to Vice President Cheney, both on principle and for practical considerations.

Lefties who argue that this argument is a cynical recipe to keep America from focusing on needed reforms must rethink their priorities. What could possibly be more necessary than America regaining its rightful place as the moral center of liberty in the world? The beauty of investigating past wrongs -- both Bush's and Obama's -- is one of the rare places where the far left and the right of America should sincerely agree.

Related Web Columns:

He's No Gipper, April 27, 2004


1. Washington Post, Prosecutor to Probe CIA Interrogations, August 25, 2009

2. Associated Press, Interrogation Probe Steams Those on Right and Left, August 25, 2009

3. Los Angeles Times, Spain Considers Prosecuting U.S. Officials for Torture, May 6, 2009