Revolution Online, January 19, 2009

A Moral and Legal Necessity:
Indict the War Criminals!

As a new administration comes into the White House, there is a deeply felt desire and palpable demand among many people to see Bush, Cheney, and their minions prosecuted as war criminals for all the outrages they have committed in the past 8 years. One example of this appeared on, President-elect Obama’s own web site—where among the most popular questions submitted by people was one asking whether Obama intended to name a special prosecutor to “independently investigate the gravest crimes of the Bush Administration, including torture and warrantless wiretapping.”

But prosecution of Bush & Co. is not only a popular demand—it is a legal necessity under U.S. and international laws. There is no question that those in charge of the Bush regime carried out criminal acts. Take the question of torture, which is outlawed by both domestic laws and international laws and treaties like the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture. Both outgoing and incoming administration officials have openly acknowledged that the Bush regime tortured prisoners. Susan Crawford, a top Bush official in charge of the military commissions at the Guantanamo prison camp, said in a recent interview with Bob Woodward of the Washington Post, “We tortured Qhatani… His treatment met the legal definition of torture.” Crawford described how Mohammed al-Qhatani, a Saudi man accused of planning to take part in the 9/11 attacks, was subjected to severe physical and psychological torture. (Washington Post, January 14) And two days after Crawford’s admission, Eric Holder—Obama’s pick for Attorney General—said in his confirmation hearing, “Waterboarding is torture.” Bush officials have previously disclosed that some detainees in CIA prisons were waterboarded. U.S. and international laws require that culprits be prosecuted for torture and other crimes—and it would be a violation of those laws if those held to be responsible are not tried.

There is, moreover, a moral necessity. How can one stand by and do nothing as those responsible for such great crimes are about to possibly walk away without any consequences? Bush, Cheney, et al. seized “suspects” without evidence, shipped them off to prison without trials, tortured them in grim prisons—and then declared that all this was morally justified and acceptable. Isn’t there a huge moral responsibility for all people of conscience to demand that these war criminals be held responsible, and to struggle politically with determination to see that this happens?

Think of the legal, political, and moral precedent that would be established if the Bush regime was allowed to escape prosecution for their crimes against humanity.

And what about the pledges made by Obama appointees during the campaign to pursue this question? Indiana University law professor Dawn Johnsen, for example, wrote last March in reference to the illegal actions of the Bush regime, “We must avoid any temptation to simply move on.” ( blogs, March 18, 2008) Johnsen was recently named by Obama as head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. (Under the Bush regime, John Yoo and other lawyers in this office issued memos that said the President, as commander-in-chief, could legally order torture of detainees.) All those who got behind Obama because of a profound hatred for all that the Bush regime did, must now act on their convictions to see that things don’t “simply move on” and that these war criminals are held accountable. And the question at the web site shows many people want to do that.

Obama’s Position: No “Looking Over Their Shoulders” for Bush Officials

Barack Obama articulated his own position in a January 11 interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC News’ “This Week.” Asked to respond to the question on his website about appointing a special investigator to pursue Bush’s “greatest crimes,” Obama answered: “We're still evaluating how we're going to approach the whole issue of interrogations, detentions, and so forth. And obviously we're going to be looking at past practices and I don't believe that anybody is above the law. On the other hand I also have a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards. And part of my job is to make sure that for example at the CIA, you've got extraordinarily talented people who are working very hard to keep Americans safe. I don't want them to suddenly feel like they've got to spend all their time looking over their shoulders and lawyering.”

When Stephanopoulos probed further about whether Obama would tell the Justice Department to investigate the actions by Bush officials, he replied that “my general belief is that when it comes to national security, what we have to focus on is getting things right in the future, as opposed [to] looking at what we got wrong in the past.”

Note well Obama’s words: “I don't want them to suddenly feel like they've got to spend all their time looking over their shoulders and lawyering.” In other words, Bush, Cheney, and others in the previous administration shouldn’t worry about being investigated and tried for their war crimes!!!

What’s Behind Obama’s Position?

Why is Obama taking this position on the prosecution of Bush officials for torture and other crimes, when this is a big demand among his own supporters and broadly in society? This is not an attempt by Obama to work for a “consensus” with Republicans or to avoid being “divisive.” Behind the re-assurances to Bush is the reality that Obama, as the U.S. president and commander-in-chief, represents the overall interests of U.S. imperialism. In that context, Obama needs the CIA to be what the CIA always has been—an intelligence agency that has a long history of carrying out assassinations, fomenting coups, brutally torturing people, and other crimes, all in the interest of enforcing U.S. imperialist interests.

Let’s remember, and for those who never knew, let’s examine a few examples of what these “extraordinarily talented” people do:

Far from reining in the CIA and the whole military-intelligence machinery, Obama needs them to be fully “unleashed” in order to pursue the U.S. “war on terror”—which is actually a war waged by the U.S. rulers, aimed at further expanding the American empire and cementing their top superpower status.

This is similar to the reason behind Obama’s reversal last year of his pledge to filibuster any bill that gave retroactive immunity to telecommunication companies that took part in the Bush regime’s program of illegally spying on the communications of millions of people. Bush’s FISA bill—legalizing the illegal wiretapping program and giving immunity to the telcoms—was very unpopular among Obama’s supporters. But Obama voted for the bill because right now, the ruling class in this country sees the need, and potential, to use complex and advanced technology to spy on people secretly, and very widely, and to have this considered legally and politically legitimate.

In regards to Bush and Cheney in particular, Obama and those around him know fully well that if they were to prosecute those two top war criminals (and Obama has totally avoided that question), this would too much call into question the legitimacy of the whole system in this country. If Obama were now to investigate and try Bush and Cheney for war crimes, what message would that send to the world about the legitimacy of the entire setup—precisely at a time when the imperialist rulers have turned to Obama to give this system a new face?

Moreover, if Obama were to actually try to prosecute his predecessors (becoming the first incoming U.S. president to do so), questions would be raised about top Congressional Democrats like Pelosi, Feinstein, and Reid who were kept informed early on by the Bush regime on the torture of detainees—and who were complicit up to their necks with all this.

Needed: A Mass Outpouring

All this is not to say that it is impossible that Bush, Cheney and the rest of the criminal cabal would be put on trial by the new crew in the White House. BUT this is not going to happen without an outpouring of outrage and tremendous struggle by millions of people. It is not going to happen without an impossible-to-ignore demand that manifests politically in the streets and in all kinds of ways among various strata of society—on a level where the rulers feel that this outpouring more threatens the legitimacy of their whole system than going through the prosecution of Bush and Cheney would.


January 19/20 Protests in DC

Go online to for information on how to take political action around the inauguration:

  • Monday, January 19—11 am, SHOE BUSH rally at DuPont Circle and march to White House to demand “Prosecute the War Criminals!”; 3 pm, Die-in/theater protest, “End the Occupation of Iraq & Afghanistan Now!”
  • Tuesday, January 20—ARREST BUSH event in front of the FBI building during the Inaugural Parade.


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