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Olbermann: Bush guilty of torture

In a Special Comment, Countdown's Keith Olbermann explains that President-elect Barack Obama should not be afraid to prosecute those elected officials complicit in act of torture in order to prevent the same mistakes from happening again.

Finally tonight as promised, a Special Comment about the President-Elect, the soon-to-be President-Emeritus, torture, and its prosecution. We have tortured people. You and I.

This is the people's democracy, we are the people, these are our elected officials. That they did not come to us and ask to act thusly in our names is unfortunate, indeed criminal, but it is also almost irrelevant. They work for us, they tortured people, and so, we have tortured people.

You and I know we have tortured Khalid Sheikh-Mohammed. We not only know about it; we have now heard it boasted about by one of the men who as of tomorrow will no longer work for us: George Walker Bush.

"...the techniques were necessary and are necessary to be used on a rare occasion to get information necessary to protect the American people," Mr. Bush said to Fox News on January 11th. "One such person who gave us information was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

"And I'm in the Oval Office and I am told that we have captured Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the professionals believe he has information necessary to secure the country.

"So I ask what tools are available for us to find information from him, and they give me a list of tools. And I said, are these tools deemed to be legal? And so we got legal opinions before the decision was made."

"And I think when people study the history of this particular episode they'll find out we gained good information from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in order to protect our country. We believe that the information we gained helped save lives on American soil."

Never mind Mr. Bush's delusions here—never mind that all primary sources who witnessed the interrogation of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed said they got nothing from him until they started buddying up to him.

Never mind that Mr. Bush's supporters' favorite torture construction—the mythical "ticking time bomb" scenario—not only did not transpire here, but Mr. Bush hasn't even had the imagination to pretend it, in order to just slightly cover his moral tracks.

The key, is that this statement, if it had been under oath, would be…. a confession to a war crime. Mr. Bush is proactive, "I ask what tools are available".

Mr. Bush is aware of the legal haze into which he steps: "And I said, are these tools deemed to be legal?." Mr. Bush realizes the tools he has chosen… have been used: "We gained good information from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed".

Since we know from previous admissions from the Pentagon that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was water-boarded, we can infer that Mr. Bush knew he would be water-boarded, and knew afterwards that he had been water-boarded. Mr. Bush is guilty.

He's guilty as sin. Mr. President-Elect, you were first asked about all this on the 18th of April, last. I am proud to say you were asked about it by a fellow who got onto his high school newspaper while I was the editor—Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Daily News.

"I think you are right," you told him. "If crimes have been committed, they should be investigated. You're also right that I would not want my first term consumed by what was perceived on the part of Republicans as a partisan witch hunt, because I think we've got too many problems we've got to solve. So this is an area where I would want to exercise judgment."

Good. Amen. But in that brief interview, was born—or at least elucidated—the loophole, as you put it, of "genuine crimes as opposed to really bad policies."

Vice-President-Elect Biden echoed it on December 21st - a statement to which your transition team has directed all those to whom this is a paramount issue, "The questions of whether or not a criminal act has been committed or a very, very, very bad judgment has been engaged in, is something the Justice Department decides."

And after his comment last week, with straightforwardness that was like water to a lost soul in the Sahara, that water boarding is torture - your nominee at Justice, Mr. Holder, echoed, "We don't want to criminalize policy differences that might exist between the outgoing administration and the administration that is about to take over."

But Mr. President-Elect: You have a confession. Since this statement of a structure of policy, prefacing policy itself, from Mr. Biden, you have Mr. Bush's confession.

More over, since Mr. Biden's statement, you have a legal assessment, from within the bowels of the Bush Administration itself.

"We tortured (Mohammed al-) Qahtani," Judge Susan Crawford told the Washington Post a week ago. "His treatment met the legal definition of torture." And that was why, Judge Crawford added, that as the Bush Administration official in charge of deciding whether or not to bring detainees at Guantanamo Bay to trial, she decided in Qahtani's case, not to.

And this, Mr. President-Elect, was not the obvious water-boarding of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. This was a more insidious combination of legally-approved procedures that still nearly killed this man Qahtani.

"The techniques they used were all authorized," Judge Crawford continued, "but the manner in which they applied them was overly aggressive and too persistent... This was not any one particular act; this was just a combination of things that had a medical impact on him, that hurt his health."

In fact, Mr. President-Elect, the records at Gitmo show that Qahtani's heartbeat eventually slowed to 35 beats per minute. "It was abusive and uncalled for. And coercive. Clearly coercive, sympathize with the intelligence gatherers in those days after 9/11, not knowing what was coming next and trying to gain information to keep us safe. But there still has to be a line that we should not cross. And unfortunately what this has done, I think, has tainted everything going forward."

If you are worried about the Republicans viewing any torture prosecution in the way you postulated to Will Bunch—"a partisan witch hunt"—you can remind them that the woman who said all that, Susan Crawford is a life-long Republican.

So, Mr. President-Elect, beyond whatever else will come out, as the whistleblowers begin to, just after noon tomorrow, you have your predecessor's unofficial confession and you have this singular evaluation by a principal in your predecessor's administration, this kind of line-level confession.

They're guilty of this, Mr. President-Elect. They're guilty as sin. Since he talked to my friend Bunch in April, Mr. Obama's only lengthy comments about this, were made to George Stephanopoulos on January 11th of this year. See if a disturbing theme becomes evident.

"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."

Later, "My instinct is for us to focus on—how do we make sure that moving forward we are doing the right thing."

Later still, "My orientation's going to be, to move forward."

Finally, "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."

Sadly, as commendable as the intention here might seem, this country has never succeeded in "moving forward" without first cleansing itself of its mistaken past. In point of fact, every effort to merely ‘draw a line in the sand' and declare the past, dead, has served only to keep the past alive—and often to strengthen it.

We compromised with slavery in the Declaration of Independence—and four score and nine years later we had buried 600-thousand of our sons and brothers in a Civil War.

After that War's ending, we compromised with the social restructuring and protection of the rights of minorities in the South. And a century later, we had not only not resolved anything, but black leaders were still being assassinated in the cities of the South.

We compromised with Germany and the reconstruction of Europe after the First World War—nobody even arrested the German Kaiser, let alone conducted war crimes trials and 19 years later there was an indescribably more evil Germany and a more heart-rending Second World War.

We compromised with the Trusts of the early 1900's, and today we have corporations too big to let fail. We compromised with The Palmer Raids and got McCarthyism, and we compromised with McCarthyism and got Watergate, and we compromised with Watergate and the junior members of the Ford Administration realized how little was ultimately at risk, and they grew up to be Paul Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney.

But Mr. President-Elect, you are entirely correct. As you say, "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."

And that means prosecuting all those involved in the Bush Administration's torture of prisoners—and starting at the top. You're also right that you should not "want your first term consumed by what was perceived on the part of Republicans as a partisan witch-hunt."

But your only other option might be to let this sit and fester, indefinitely. Because, Mr. President-Elect, some day there will be another Republican president—or even a Democrat just as blind as Mr. Bush to ethics and this country's Moral  Force—and he will look back to what you did about Mr. Bush—or what you did not do—and he will see precedent.

Or, as Cheney saw, he will see how not to get caught next time. Prosecute, Mr. President-Elect, and even if you get not one conviction, you will still have accomplished good, for generations unborn. Because merely by acting, you will deny Mr. Bush what he most wants.

Right now, without prosecutions, without this nation standing up and saying "this was wrong, we will atone"—Mr. Bush's version of what happened goes into the historical record of this nation: Torture was legal. It worked. George Bush saved the country. The End.

We have tortured people. You and I, Mr. President-Elect.

This is the people's democracy, we are the people, these were our elected officials. That they did not come to us and ask to act thusly in our names is unfortunate, indeed criminal, but it is also almost irrelevant. They worked for us, they tortured people, and so... we have tortured people.

Thus, beginning tomorrow, it is up to you not just to discontinue this but to prevent it.

At the end of his first year in office, Mr. Lincoln tried to contextualize the Civil War for those who still wanted to compromise with the evils of secession and slavery. "The struggle of today," Lincoln wrote, "is not altogether for today - it is for a vast future also."

Mr. President-Elect, you have been handed the beginning of that future. Use it—to protect our children, and our distant descendants, from anything, like this, ever happening again.