Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Torture: Is it Emanuel, Not Obama?

This New Yorker article about Eric Holder's attempts to get a trial for Khalid Sheik Mohamed in civilian courts is fascinating reading, and I strongly recommend it.

But I want to focus on one little piece:

Emanuel viewed many of the legal problems that Craig and Holder were immersed in as distractions. “When Guantánamo walked in the door, Rahm walked out,” the informed source said. . . . But Emanuel adamantly opposed a number of Holder’s decisions, including one that widened the scope of a special counsel who had begun investigating the C.I.A.’s interrogation program. Bush had appointed the special counsel, John Durham, to assess whether the C.I.A. had obstructed justice when it destroyed videotapes documenting waterboarding sessions. Holder authorized Durham to determine whether the agency’s abuse of detainees had itself violated laws. Emanuel worried that such investigations would alienate the intelligence community. But Holder, who had studied law at Columbia with Telford Taylor, the chief American prosecutor in the Nuremberg trials, was profoundly upset after seeing classified documents explicitly describing C.I.A. prisoner abuse. The United Nations Convention Against Torture requires the U.S. to investigate credible torture allegations. Holder felt that, as the top law-enforcement officer in the U.S., he had to do something.

Emanuel couldn’t complain directly to Holder without violating strictures against political interference in prosecutorial decisions. But he conveyed his unhappiness to Holder indirectly, two sources said. Emanuel demanded, “Didn’t he get the memo that we’re not re-litigating the past?”

Read more: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/02/15/100215fa_fact_mayer?currentPage=all#ixzz0f5gj78gX

So, the question is: is it Rahm Emanuel who has Obama's ear regarding torture issues? Is it Emanuel, and not Obama, who strongly believes that accountability is less important than getting along with the Republicans?

Both Rahm and Obama have records of bipartisan collegiality- Obama in the Illinois legislature, Rahm in the US House. Both probably share the same belief in the importance of good relationships with the opposition. (The problem, of course, is that the opposition put no importance in that at all- Republicans want all their opponents destroyed, and have never been shy about saying so since Nixon.) Given their mutual desire to "play nice" with the enemy, combined with Emanuel's reported hard-ass tactics against his allies, the fact that either, or both, would seek to protect their "friends" across the aisle from the consequences of their own actions makes sense.

If Obama is allowing Emanuel to be his Cheney- the power behind the throne- then the ultimate responsibility is still the President's. Still, it would be interesting to know if Emanuel's influence is the dominant factor in Obama's decision to block all investigation of or prosecution for war crimes, particularly torture.

Because Emanuel, at least, can be fired without an election.

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