NEW YORK—That's it? Bush moves back to Texas to dote on his presidential library—while drawing a $197,000 pension? Cheney goes back to Wyoming to fish and work on his memoirs? After committing crimes so numerous and monstrous that bookshelves are already groaning under their weight, the cabal of illegitimate coup leaders who destroyed the United States get to tiptoe out of the rubble and go home to a comfortable retirement?
Earlier this week, a senior Pentagon prosecutor openly admitted what has long been known: Torture, the lowest and most criminal act any society can sanction, is official U.S. policy. "His treatment met the legal definition of torture," Judge Susan Crawford told The Washington Post about the alleged "20th hijacker" of 9/11, now being held at Gitmo. The man was so brutalized, Crawford decided, that he could not be charged in court. The same is true of many of those being held at the Guantanamo concentration camp.
None of the Bush administration officials responsible have faced the slightest inconvenience as the result of their actions.
Donald Rumsfeld, the beast who promoted, botched and joked about a war that has killed more than a million innocent Iraqis, spent the last year as a "distinguished visiting fellow" at Stanford, cogitating about "issues pertaining to ideology and terror."
John Yoo, the Justice Department hack who wrote the memos that authorized U.S. military and intelligence personnel to torture prisoners of war, is enjoying the cozy ambience of academe as a UC Berkeley law professor.
Colin Powell, whose 2003 lie to the United Nations ("there can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce more, many more") convinced Americans who were still on the fence to support the invasion of Iraq—a misbegotten project that drove the last nail in the coffin of the U.S. economy—whiles away his days attending the meetings of various corporate boards.
If you were expecting Barack Obama to deliver justice, forget it. "I don't believe that anybody is above the law. On the other hand, I also have a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards," Obama said recently. "Look forward" is Beltwayese for "no accountability."
Obama went on to assure the men and women who tortured innocent detainees to death that no one will ever bother them about their war crimes. "And part of my job is to make sure that for example at the CIA, you've got extraordinarily talented people who are working very hard to keep Americans safe. I don't want them to suddenly feel like they've got to spend all their time looking over their shoulders and lawyering up."
Is this what we've come to? Have Americans become so morally depraved that we condone this level of lawlessness? Have we become so weak and helpless in the face of unconscionable violations of the Bill of Rights—torture, government spies listening to our phone calls, starting wars against countries that never hurt us, looting the treasury—that we just "look forward"?
So much for the land of the free and the brave. See you around, nation of laws.
The meltdown at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, historians say, brought down the Soviet government by exposing its incompetence and powerlessness. Poor design and disaster response turned the accident into a disaster. The regime's inability to contain the problem and successfully cover it up highlighted its impotence.
"The Chernobyl catastrophe," wrote Philip Taubman in The New York Times in 1996, "was a manifestation of the political, moral and technological rot that was metastasizing in the Soviet system and would soon kill it." People stopped believing in the USSR. Then they stopped fearing it.
Should the United States collapse, historians will likely point to two events: 9/11 and Katrina. 9/11 proved the United States was a paper tiger, an aggressive power that can blow up the world with nuclear weapons yet can't scramble a single fighter jet to stop 19 idiots with boxcutters. The inept response to the hurricane that destroyed New Orleans was incompetence personified. The American people don't think the U.S. government cares about them. Even worse, they doubt the government could help them if it wanted to.
With the American government exposed as stupid and weak, all that remains is the American ideal: the 232-year-old democratic experiment that began with the idea that we are all equal under the law and that all human beings enjoy a set of inherent, inalienable rights—even "enemy combatants" and illegal immigrants.
If we fail to hold the elites who seized the presidency in a 2000 judicial coup d'etat to account, if we say torture is no big deal, if we don't imprison men who lied and conspired to murder more than 1 million Iraqis and Afghans and Americans and countless others, if we let these individuals golf and fish and deliver lectures to young people as if they have done nothing wrong, then such horrors will happen again and again. I want would-be torturers to "look over their shoulders." I want them to second-guess themselves.
Even worse than that: If we don't prosecute Bush and Cheney and Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld and Yoo and Rice and Powell and scores of other top Bush officials who took part in the destruction of fundamental American values, there will be nothing—not even an idea—left of the United States.
Ted Rall is the author of To Afghanistan and Back: A Graphic Travelogue and Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East? He draws cartoons and writes columns for Universal Press Syndicate.