Bob Franken

Torture Investigation or Tortured Witch Hunt?


There are two words that those on the left need to remember as they demand that any detainee torture investigation examine top officials in the Bush administration: “Karl Rove.”

Not “Karl Rove” as in someone who should be investigated, but as a warning of what can happen when our mighty legal process is perverted by politics. Has everyone forgotten the accusations that Rove and other top Bush officials seriously abused their temporary control over the mechanisms of law enforcement? How tempting would it be for their enemies to engage in the same kind of misconduct?

Actually, there are two other words vengeful Democrats might want to bear in mind: “Richard Nixon.” In their professed desire for accountability, do they really want to descend into his kind of toxic political retribution? Do they really want to cross the same lines Nixon and Rove did, undermining the integrity of a system of justice that treasures its independence?

That’s exactly the danger in pursuing the prosecution of top-level public officials who can argue they were merely doing what the people elected them to do. Any investigation, when the other side controls it, could easily turn into a witch hunt.

The Justice Department is still suffering from low morale after Bush administration cronies breached the sacred barriers that are essential to enforcing the law in fair and impartial ways. An investigation during the Obama years would look like partisan payback and do further damage.

Some suggest what they believe is a compromise: a “truth commission.” There would be no prosecution, but the commission would still have massive resources, including subpoena power and FBI staff, to target the previous administration, from the highest level on down.

It’s a weapon that would be far more powerful than criminal action. It would be assigned to deliver an indictment of shame. As a result, the nation would inevitably be paralyzed by a debate over whether it is appropriate to use the mighty power of government to crush an opposition that no longer wields power.
For a nation to willingly accept the rule of law, the people must trust it is not being abused. Even the perception it is being manipulated to favor one side over another can shatter respect. Those who advocate taking their revenge on the Karl Roves of this world should remember: As they go down that road, those on the other side will inevitably have their chance for payback. Wouldn’t this be a good time to stop the foolishness?

Oh. Here are still two more words: “Dick Cheney.” He’s raised the possibility that he might not cooperate with an investigation — an investigation that wouldn’t be complete without him. He said the idea “offends the hell out of me” because it would be so “intensely partisan.” He may have a point.

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