What do you have to do to not be eligible for promotion in official Washington?
I've always thought it was a mistake for the administration not to pursue prosecutions for the torture regime. It seems like a bad idea for a powerful nation to ignore war crimes. You have to assume that it could blow back on it some time in the future. But since we now know that the presidency is largely a ceremonial position without any power to shape the debate, affect legislation or influence the military industrial complex, it's clearly awfully tough to do anything at all. Best stick to nice pictures with foreign leaders and leave it at that.
However, even those who view the office as nothing more than a symbol of leadership would have to grant that the president surely has the discretion not to promote the people who signed off on the war crimes. And yet:
Previously undisclosed Justice Department e-mail messages, interviews and newly declassified documents show that some of the lawyers, including James B. Comey, the deputy attorney general who argued repeatedly that the United States would regret using harsh methods, went along with a 2005 legal opinion asserting that the techniques used by the Central Intelligence Agency were lawful.
That opinion, giving the green light for the C.I.A. to use all 13 methods in interrogating terrorism suspects, including waterboarding and up to 180 hours of sleep deprivation, “was ready to go out and I concurred,” Mr. Comey wrote to a colleague in an April 27, 2005, e-mail message obtained by The New York Times.
For the life of me I cannot figure out what institutional impediment is forcing the president to do this one. I'm sure there must be something. Otherwise one would have to assume that he is rewarding someone who gave a legal opinion that waterboarding is legal and sending a signal far and wide that the only thing that will cause you any trouble is talking to the press about it.
Now it is true that Comey also warned that it would look bad in the future and that some of the stuff was just "awful." But he signed off anyway and he stuck around. The second part of his complaint (that it was "awful") remains true. The first is obviously not a problem. After all, he himself is being promoted with a hugely important job despite his involvement with the regime. Official Washington must not think it looks bad after all.
Now his legal opinion, however spurious, that waterboarding doesn't constitute torture, probably isn't a firing offense. He clearly didn't think it met the legal definition at the time. But it is torture, by any common sense definition of the word. He had personal, moral choices when this came down. And made the wrong ones.
I find it hard to believe that the administration couldn't find even one qualified person in the government who didn't take part in Bush's torture regime. Indeed, while obviously nobody ever wanted to "look in the rearview mirror" and pursue this, I would have thought it was important to make sure that anyone who had agreed to it had at least reached the top post he would ever reach in government. But I guess even that "punishment" was too much to ask.