Sunday, November 23, 2008

Looking At and Looking Away Imply Each Other

The Bush Pardons

By Scott Horton

Originally published November 22, 2008 in No Comment on

How does the George W. Bush presidency most resemble that of his father, George H.W. Bush? It may be best to wait to the last, agonizing days of reign of Bush the Lesser before making any call. Recall that Bush 41 left office with a flurry of highly controversial pardons, affecting a large number of individuals who were caught up in the Iran-Contra scandal. In December 1992, while Americans focused on the incoming Clinton Administration, Bush 41 wielded the pardon power to free former defense secretary Caspar Weinberger and five others who had been convicted for crimes committed in connection with the Iran-Contra affair. Lawrence Walsh, the independent counsel handling the matter, had been gradually closing the circle on the affair, and increasingly the evidence was suggesting that Bush 41 himself had been at the center of it. He had, Walsh learned, withheld his personal diaries from investigators and made statements which were at least seriously misleading. By issuing the Iran-Contra pardons, Bush threw up a roadblock…on a road that headed straight to himself.

True to form, the Democrats hardly raised a serious objection to the pardons. They were focused on the incoming administration and eager to avoid anything that would distract from the coup with which Clinton hoped to launch his presidency: a major healthcare initiative.

Sixteen years later, history appears poised to repeat itself. A new Democratic administration is preparing to descend on Washington, and healthcare reform is already being signaled as its first major campaign. President Bush, who has up to this point been remarkably stingy in using his pardon (other than for adviser Scooter Libby, who outed a CIA agent and lied to a grand jury about it) is widely thought to be preparing to take some extraordinary actions. Of prime concern are the Administration footsoldiers and policy-makers who participated in two extralegal gambits: his signature interrogation program that introduced a host of torture techniques which were up to that point the preserve of brutal Latin American dictators and formerly Communist adversaries; and a vast spying program that included snooping on the communications of tens of millions of Americans. Both programs had the misfortune of being contrary to federal statutes and punishable as felonies. The Bush Justice Department itself participated in these criminal schemes, and therefore should be counted upon not to prosecuted them. But with time wearing short and the prospect of a new administration descending upon Washington, Bush may shortly act to issue a pre-emptive class-based pardon to insure that his helpers not be prosecuted. And if the pardon is class-based, one prominent beneficiary will be George W. Bush himself. So 2008 promises to be a near perfect replay of pardons farce of 1992.

New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, has different ideas. On Friday, Nadler introduced House Resolution 1531, anticipating and condemning such a pardon. Here are the findings:

(1) it is the sense of the House of Representatives that the granting of preemptive pardons by the President to senior officials of his administration for acts they may have taken in the course of their official duties is a dangerous abuse of the pardon power;

(2) it is the sense of the House of Representatives that the President should not grant preemptive pardons to senior officials in his administration for acts they may have taken in the course of their official duties;

(3) it is the sense of the House of Representatives that James Madison was correct in his observation that ‘‘[i]f the President be connected, in any suspicious manner, with any person, and there be grounds [to] believe he will shelter him, the House of Representatives can impeach him; they can remove him if found guilty’’;

(4) it is the sense of the House of Representatives that a special investigative commission, or a Select Committee be tasked with investigating possible illegal activities by senior officials of the administration of President George W. Bush, including, if necessary, any abuse of the President’s pardon power; and

(5) the next Attorney General of the United States appoint an independent counsel to investigate, and, where appropriate, prosecute illegal acts by senior officials of the administration of President George W. Bush.

Read the whole resolution here. has a form that makes it simple to contact your representatives to register your support for the Nadler resolution. And Representative Nadler and others (including myself) will be speaking on this issue on the evening of December 4 at NYU Law School, at a free forum co-sponsored by Harper’s magazine. The event is open to the public.

> his signature interrogation program that introduced a host of torture techniques which were up to that point the preserve of brutal Latin American dictators and formerly Communist adversaries;

As if we hadn't trained the butchers of Latin America at the School of the Americas, and their economic cohorts in Dr. Friedman's lab at University of Chicago. Torture has long been practiced right here in the "good ol'" USA. And you know it. How exactly was it that Pinochet took power on 11 September 1973? How many US officials were in on it? Of those, how many still walk free? Since we consider our dominance of Latin America our Manifest Destiny, the natural and proper order of things, we don't recognize our role in torturing it, is that it?

I got a host here to see you, Prof. Horton: a host of my Iroquois ancestors, clamoring to contradict you by their very bones and long-since spilled blood. Small pox-infested blankets and massacres long predate the Bush-APA Torture regime.

Oh, and here come the people, our sisters & brothers, if not fellow citizens, who were tortured under the rubric "slavery."

Make room for the men who were tortured by the Chicago Police Department. Here come all the people beaten by the police.

Pardon me for pointing it out, but o brother! my Brother, you have a peculiar blind spot regarding the true nature of American history. What is the phenomenology of this critical lacunae?

It's not like I don't have my own, don't get me wrong. But I wish you would be more mindful when you make self-exculpatory claims as this in Harper's.

What would Mark Twain say?


Huh. This is the same time fram as Ehrenreich's myth-busting article mentioned by Normoan Solomon in his recent article.


Bill Clinton's alleged lurch to the left in '92 is being used to push Obama to the right. Problem is, it never happened.

It's been 16 years since a Democrat moved into the White House. Now, the fog of memory and the spin of media are teaming up to explain that Barack Obama must hew to "the center" if he knows what's good for his presidency.

"Many political observers," the San Francisco Chronicle reported days ago, say that Obama "must tack toward the political mainstream to avoid miscalculations made by President Bill Clinton, who veered left and fired up the 1994 Republican backlash." This storyline provides a kind of political morality play: The new president tried to govern from the left, and Democrats lost control of Congress just two years later.

But, if facts matter, the narrative is a real head-scratcher.

During the 1992 election year, Clinton had campaigned for the White House under the mantra "Putting People First." But as economic analyst Doug Henwood was to comment, President-elect Clinton swiftly morphed into the champion of an austerity plan that could have been called "Putting Bondholders First."

From the outset, President Clinton made clear his commitments to the corporate centers of economic power by choosing such officials as Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen, Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, trade representative Mickey Kantor and Secretary of State Warren Christopher.

Soon after becoming president, Clinton abandoned his few initial stances that might qualify as "left." He quickly deserted his brief position for gay rights in the military. Under fire for his nomination of progressive law professor Lani Guinier to be assistant attorney general for civil rights, Clinton tossed her overboard.

In sharp contrast, the new president fought like hell for the corporate-beloved trade agreement known as NAFTA. And he spread his wings as a deficit hawk, while his campaign's pledges of "public investment" fell to earth with paltry line items. Less than five months into his presidency, Newsweek lauded Clinton's "shift to the right" and urged him to show "the backbone" to stay there.

But none of that has stopped the media's clucking about the Clinton administration's early "lurch to the left." The myth never died, though it was quickly ripe for debunking.

In real time, one of the most astute debunkers was Barbara Ehrenreich. As the only writer from the left with a regular column in a major U.S. newsmagazine (she later got the boot), Ehrenreich wrote a Time piece in mid-June 1993 that directly addressed the nascent mythology. The incoming president's leftward lurch was "a neat parable," she noted, "but it never happened."

Ehrenreich added: "The lurch to the left is like the ‘stab in the back' invented by right-wing Germans after World War One: an instant myth designed to discredit all one's political enemies in one fell swoop. ... Maybe it's been so long that we've forgotten what ‘left' is and how to tell it from right. At the simplest, most ecumenical level, to be on the left means to take the side of the underdog, whoever that may be: the meek, the poor and, generally speaking, the ‘least among us,' as a well-known representative of the left position put it a couple of millenniums ago."

More than 15 years after Barbara Ehrenreich wrote those words, the tall tale of President Clinton's lurch to the left is still in the air. Warning Democratic politicians against being "liberal" or moving "left" remains a time-honored -- even compulsive -- media ritual.

No comments: