Torture, Accountability, and American Progress

Erica Williams, who works at CAP and CAPAF as Deputy Director of Campus Progress, was apparently on CNN on Friday and said the following about torture investigations:

The American people right now are actually not interested in this sideshow and this discussion. The American people are interested in looking forward — nobody is concerned anymore with what the Bush administration was doing and did. We decided it was torture. Conservatives may or may not disagree. None of that matters at this point and time.

After reading this critique from Jane Hamsher and especially this from Glenn Greenwald I wanted to make clear that that’s not a sentiment I agree with.

For one thing, to the best of my knowledge it’s not factually accurate to say that the American people don’t want an investigation. But beyond that, while public opinion is a relevant consideration when thinking about how to approach issues, part of what we do in both our c(3) and c(4) capacities is try to shape public opinion. And the fact of the matter is that some form of accountability for what happened in the past is important. I’m not, personally, all that enthusiastic about the notion of trying to conduct criminal prosecutions but I think something on a “truth commission” model and serious efforts to bring professional sanctions against John Yoo and Jay Bybee would be a good idea.

At any rate, CAP/AF has done a whole bunch of work on this topic. Here’s Senior Fellow William Schultz arguing that “Torture or Not, It’s Illegal and Wrong”. Here’s our CEO John Podesta calling for the impeachment of Jay Bybee. Here’s a recent Progress Report on right-wing distractions aimed at preventing accountability and ThinkProgress’ comprehensive work on torture. And here’s Ken Gude (whose lead I tend to follow on these issues), our associate director for international rights and responsibility, calling for a thorough and formal investigation of Bush-era torture.


Why not criminal prosecutions? Well, my understanding is that it could prove extremely difficult to secure convictions and that the top dogs would likely get off. But if a prosecutor has a case he thinks is viable, I wouldn’t complain. But, as I said, I’m not enthusiastic. And I don’t think that whether or not any individual person serves jail time is ultimately the most important issue here. What I really want to see is official, public accounting for what happened and official, public accounting that it was wrong.