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Should investigations into C.I.A. interrogator law-breaking proceed? On Thursday, David Broder countered his Washington Post colleague Eugene Robinson's recent column in a carefully-worded piece that acknowledged "the importance of accountability for illegal acts ... even at the highest levels." Neither did he buy "Dick Cheney's argument that [investigation] is simply political revenge." But, he wrote, Attorney General's decision to name a special counsel on the topic is "the first step on a legal trail that could lead to trials--and that is what gives me pause." Why?

  1. "Cheney is not wrong when he asserts that it is a dangerous precedent when a change in power in Washington leads a successor government not just to change the policies of its predecessors but to invoke the criminal justice system against them."
  2. "If accountability is the standard, then it should apply to the policymakers and not just to the underlings. Ultimately, do we want to see Cheney, who backed these actions and still does, standing in the dock?"
  3. "The cost to the country would simply be too great."

A number of left-leaning bloggers, however, strongly disagreed with Broder, objecting to the precedents his suggested course of action would set:

  • Illegal Is Illegal  The Washington Monthly's Steve Benen thought the matter clear-cut: "The Justice Department has evidence of alleged criminal activity." He did not find Cheney's and Broder's argument about administration change convincing. "Let's instead," he proposed to illustrate his point, "tell all executive branch employees that if they do something illegal, just wait until there's a regime change. It's not as if that might set a dangerous precedent."
  • Troubling Implications  Adam Serwer at The American Prospect was similarly concerned. "Broder isn't so much saying," he wrote, "that the powerful deserve to ignore the law as he is saying that the statute of limitations is up once they leave office." He had a further objection to Broder's third point about the cost to the country: "What, I wonder, will be the cost for becoming a society in which torture, torture, is not a crime but simply a policy preference?"
  • Misplaced Priorities  "L'État, c'est Dick!" Attaturk on FireDogLake summarized Broder's position. Broder's anti-Nixon and anti-Clinton credentials failed to impress: "So war crimes get a pass while being disingenuous about foreplay is a crime against humanity. Got it."
  • Self-Serving Glenn Greenwald on Salon had by far the most provocative response. He began by declaring that Broder's column "has clarified a crucial political fact: most establishment "journalists" don't believe in the rule of law for political elites--period." But at the heart of Broder's and other "anti-investigation journalists'" argument Greenwald saw an inconsistency leading him to question their motives:
The standard claim made by investigation opponents in the media is that we all know that torture is abhorrent and that what was done is terribly wrong, but that prosecutions would just be too disruptive … But it's simply not true that these journalists vehemently objected to torture as abhorrent but now merely believe prosecutions are an over-reaction … They did the opposite: they mocked those who objected to it and who tried to stop it as overheated, hysterical, fringe leftists--as Broder did in a November, 2004 Op-Ed, deriding as "unhinged" those who were arguing "that 'the forces of darkness' are taking over the country." 

Their opposition to investigations is absolutely grounded in their rejection of the rule of law for political elites, but at least as much, it's a desperate effort to protect themselves and shield themselves from the accountability and shame they so intensely deserve.

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