John McCain fired a shot at Barack Obama today after the release of the OLC memos on interrogation prompted calls for action against the attorneys. McCain, who opposed the use of enhanced interrogation techniques and led the fight against them in Congress, warned Obama that any such pursuit would turn into a “witch hunt” aimed at the wrong people. He also warned that treating policy differences as criminal actions would turn the US into a “banana republic”:
“If you criminalize legal advice, which is basically what they’re going to do, then it has a terribly chilling effect on any kind of advice and counsel that the president might receive,” McCain said during an interview on CBS’s “Early Show.” …
McCain compared the potential prosecutions with the actions of “banana republics” that “prosecute people for actions they didn’t agree with under previous administrations.”
“To go back on a witch hunt that could last for a year or so, frankly, is going to be bad for the country, bad for future presidents — precedents that may be set by this, and certainly nonproductive in trying to pursue the challenges we face,” he said.
I’m a little surprised to see McCain leading the pushback against Obama, and it indicates just how badly Obama fumbled this issue. McCain and Obama were almost sympatico about this during the campaign, and McCain has angered his own base on numerous occasions on this topic — about which he unfortunately knows much more than the rest of us. Having McCain, of all people, accuse Obama of a witch hunt and warning of a banana republic on the torture issue is a real political blow to Obama.
As I wrote earlier, of all the people in the loop on the interrogations, the lawyers are the least culpable. They didn’t order the interrogations, and they didn’t approve them, either. People may disagree with their interpretation of the law, but all they did was offer legal advice. They may have given bad advice, but that’s not a crime.
If crimes were committed, then the pursuit would be against those who conducted the interrogations, those who ordered them, and those who winked at them while in a position to stop them. As Peter Hoekstra says, that includes a number of people on Capitol Hill. Furthermore, in order to prosecute the people who ordered the interrogations, one has to prosecute the people who conducted them, which will likely create a walkout at CIA when Obama needs them for critical missions.
Pete Abel says that a truth commission with immunity all around is the best option. Now that Obama has wreaked havoc by selectively leaking the OLC memos, it may be the least worst option, but only if we start with an honest release of all related material so that America can judge the actions and the results in full context.
Update: Fixed the repetition in the excerpt.
Update II: Just to clarify, it was my assumption that a truth commission would involve immunity all around. Pete says he’d prefer not to make that explicit, although he knows that other truth commissions have operated in that manner.