Well not exactly on torture, but on why the Obama Administration should "look to the future, not to the past" and just let it go.
He begins with some historical precednts:
When Thomas Jefferson succeeded John Adams, a contest that put America on such a different footing that it is remembered today as the Revolution of 1800, he did not seek to put members of the Adams administration on trial. When Warren G. Harding followed Woodrow Wilson in the White House in 1921, he did not put Edith Galt Wilson on trial for usurping the office of the presidency after Wilson's stroke. When Bill Clinton ended a dozen years of Republican rule in 1993, he did not try to prosecute Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush for deceiving the Congress over the Iran-Contra affair.For the record, as far as I know none of the above list was accused of torture.
In any event, while Shribman fails to mention a specific charge that the Jeffersonians could have charged the Adamsians with, the rest of his argument rests on the notion that since Harding failed to charge Wilson's widow with "usurpation" (or whatever the charge would have been) and since Clinton failed to prosecute Bush and Reagan for Iran-Contra (and so on), then the Obama should let George Bush and Dick Cheney get away with torture. He sums it up with a creatively constructed and properly punctuated alliteration:
Here presidents and parties do not criminalize the policies of their predecessors.Implying that elsewhere, presidents and parties DO criminalize their predecessors' policies. A banana republic perhaps? That's a cheap shot, as we all know.
What Shribman fails to recognize (or perhaps what he's avoiding) is the simple fact that torture is a crime. A big one. A violation of federal and international law whose punishment is, and of right ought to be, severe.
I find this next sentence unintentially funny:
That is why the nascent effort to investigate and perhaps prosecute members of the Bush administration is a dramatic departure from American tradition.Bill Clinton was impeached for the very serious charge of perjury as he was caught in a lie about the fellatio he'd received from a woman who wasn't his wife. The Bush administration is accused (at least in the court of public opinion) of okaying the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" that the International Committee of the Red Cross has already deemed "constituted torture."
Perjury about fellatio was serious enough for multi-million dollar investigation but "American tradition" demands that serious allegations of torture get a pass.
Perhaps if Monica Lewinsky were waterboarded...
That snarky digression it leads me to the fundamental flaw in the next section of Shribman's column:
This is no defense of torture nor of the tactics the Bush administration may have used in recent years; press accounts of those episodes that emerged late last month were shocking. But far below the surface of the noisy Washington and cable-television conversation is a quieter but very serious debate, sparked by the circulation in elite legal circles in recent days of an Internet version of a forthcoming article in the Yale Law Journal that argues that "all interrogation methods allegedly authorized since 9/11, with the possible exception of waterboarding, have been authorized before."I bolded and italicized the phrase regarding waterboarding in the event it would have been missed otherwise. Now look at Shribman's argument again while telling yourself: But they did waterboard.
This article, by William Ranney Levi, is significant as much for its intellectual provenance as it is for its contents. Mr. Levi, part of one of the most distinguished legal families in the nation, exposed his argument to the rigorous review of several leading legal minds, conservative and liberal, some of whom doubtlessly disagree with him.
He cites consultations with Jack L. Goldsmith, the conservative Harvard law professor who resigned from the Bush Justice Department and later expressed qualms over the Bush anti-terrorism legal rationale; Harold H. Koh, the dean of the Yale Law School and a leading human rights activist who has been nominated by Mr. Obama to be legal adviser to the State Department; Mariano-Florentino Cuellar, a Stanford law professor in the Obama inner ring; and Martin S. Lederman, a Georgetown law professor and fierce Bush critic who is the president's choice for a leadership position in the powerful and prestigious Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department.
The meaning of all of this is not that the Bush policies were smart, prudent, moral or effective. They may not have been any of those things. The meaning, however, is that the Bush policies were legally plausible. [emphasis added]
So Shribman's whole argument of letting it slide because there's been enough precedent for Bush's policies to be legally plausible are crushed under:
They waterboarded.The US has already prosecuted waterboarding (in Texas recently and against Imperial Japan 6 decades ago). How's that for precedents?
And he insults his audience (meaning you and me) by insisting on calling this a "policy" dispute. This is not about taxes or spending or who'd make a good Supreme Court nominee.
It's about a crime. One that happened hundreds of times. One that happened in our name and one that to "protect" us.
There's a reason the UN Convention Against Torture exists. We can't have the high moral ground if we let the torture go. Indeed, we're in violation of international law if we do.