In his new Weekly Standard column, right-wing pundit Bill Kristol lays out a to-do list for President Bush before he leaves office. He urges Bush to deliver speeches “reminding Americans of our successes fighting the war on terror.” Kristol dreams, “Over time, Bush might even get deserved credit for effective conduct of the war on terror.”
After urging Bush to fight the incoming administration’s desire to close Guantanamo, Kristol concludes with this:
One last thing: Bush should consider pardoning — and should at least be vociferously praising — everyone who served in good faith in the war on terror, but whose deeds may now be susceptible to demagogic or politically inspired prosecution by some seeking to score political points. The lawyers can work out if such general or specific preemptive pardons are possible; it may be that the best Bush can or should do is to warn publicly against any such harassment or prosecution. But the idea is this: The CIA agents who waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and the NSA officials who listened in on phone calls from Pakistan, should not have to worry about legal bills or public defamation. In fact, Bush might want to give some of these public servants the Medal of Freedom at the same time he bestows the honor on Generals Petraeus and Odierno. They deserve it.
In the Bush era, the Medal of Freedom has come to absurdly represent a reward for those who carried out policy failures at the urging of the Bush administration. By this standard, the implementers of torture and warrantless wiretapping certainly qualify for such a medal.
The Wall Street Journal reported recently that the White House “isn’t inclined to grant sweeping pardons for former administration officials involved in harsh interrogations and detentions of terror suspects.” President-elect Barack Obama is reportedly unlikely to pursue criminal cases against such officials, but is said to be considering a 9/11-style commission that would investigate counterterrorism policies and make public as many details as possible.”
Bush’s “record of stonewalling inquiries into his administration’s legally questionable behavior — the torture policy that led to the Abu Ghraib nightmare; illegal wiretapping; the politically motivated firing of federal attorneys — justify concern that he may be considering pardoning officials involved in those misdeeds,” the New York Times warns in an editorial this morning. “If he wants to try to reclaim his reputation, he can start by not abusing the pardon power on his way out the door,” the Times writes.