Wikileaks: Presidents Like Immunity

Of recent human rights abusers, the liberal left points with great frequency to Augusto Pinochet, the military dictator of Chile—and for Arnold Harberger’s memories as one of the “Chicago boys” during Pinochet’s regime, see here—whose immunity from prosecution over his “disappeared” victims was dramatically challenged by the investigative crusade of a Chilean judge—as documented in “The Judge and the General“—and a Spanish magistrate who swore out a warrant for Pinochet’s arrest while he was getting medical attention in London.

So when this same crusading Spanish magistrate subsequently turned his attention to the human rights abuses of Spanish captives held at Guantanamo under the Bush administration, one would expect the liberal left to lend their strong support. But when it comes to executive branch immunity from prosecution, the Obama administration is apparently not so eager to see a precedent set.

Among recent Wikileaks documents is this message from the Obama administration to Spain: Don’t indict the “Bush 6” for alleged torture in the treatment of war on terror detainees.

Acting under Spain’s principle of universal justice, which holds that grave crimes like terrorism, genocide, or torture can be prosecuted there even if alleged to have been committed abroad, the Spanish judiciary says it will drop its case—based on what a U.S. diplomat called a “well documented” 12-inch-tall dossier compiled by a Spanish human rights group—if the U.S. government plans to open its own investigation.

But by the time Spain’s Association for the Dignity of Prisoners filed the torture complaint that U.S. diplomatic circles found so troubling, the Obama White House was resisting calls to set up a Truth Commission or assign a special prosecutor to examine the legal framework that set up Guantánamo and permitted “enhanced interrogation techniques” that included waterboarding high-value detainees.

Proving that once again, it matters little who is elected president: candidate Obama promised to shut down Guantanamo, end war and torture, operate transparently, and to generally undo the Bush years. President Obama not only continues and extends all these practices, holding on mightily to every executive power Bush grabbed, but now heads an administration “trying to influence an independent judicial system to bend its laws and own rules. And it’s the Obama administration doing it to protect Bush people.” No, not just to protect Bush people—to protect Obama people wanting the same powers, and more.

The answer lies not in electing a “good man” (or woman), but in revolt: revolt against an imperial presidency laying claim to a right to torture, a right to state secrets, a right to immunity from the Rule of Law in any matter.

Magna Carta 2011 anyone?

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