Picture this: President Obama announces he wants to look forward rather than backward, so the Justice Department will no longer be prosecuting kidnappers, human traffickers, and bank robbers.
Senator Al Franken, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, whose responsibilities include oversight of the Justice Department, posts a statement on his website saying such acts are “grave moral wrongs” and “at odds with American values and the rule of law.” He writes that some of these kidnappings, traffickings and robberies were “authorized at the highest level of the government” and in fact were done in our names. He adds that we ought to “focus our efforts on making sure these types of egregious violations never happen again.”
But when the Attorney General appears before him in Judiciary Committee oversight hearing after Judiciary Committee oversight hearing, Senator Franken says nothing about the new policy of no prosecutions of kidnappers, human traffickers, and bank robbers. He simply goes along with the new policy, seeming to believe his website post absolves him of further responsibility.
Many of you might think such a limited response raises serious questions. But that is precisely Senator Franken’s stance on the issue of accountability for U.S.-committed torture since 9/11.
A week ago, the Senator appeared on the U of M campus at a College Democrats event, where he responded to a question about why he wasn’t pushing for accountability for those high government officials who authorized and committed torture in our names. He said indeed such practices had occurred, but that the President had said he was going to look forward rather than backward and had made it clear that he wasn’t going to prosecute for torture.
‘Nuff said; close the book. Never mind the presumed checks and balances between the branches of government. Never mind the words of the Pledge of Allegiance about justice for all, or the words engraved on the front of the United States Supreme Court building, “Equal justice under law.” Never mind the dangers the Senator’s relative silence creates for human rights practices throughout the world or its profound impact on our national security.
Accountability for human rights — whether by domestic prosecutions, truth commissions, reparations, trials at the International Criminal Court, pressures from foreign governments, or other means — is becoming the norm around the world. And it is occurring in countries that have much less robust traditions in the rule of law than we have.
But alas, we in fact have pressured other countries not to investigate our torture program, we have resisted all efforts at civil redress within our courts by claiming “state secrets” privileges, and we have refused to empanel a commission of inquiry that would be one small step in helping us regain our human rights standing in the world. Our country, with President Obama’s and Senator Franken’s unfortunate leadership, is a rogue nation in this regard.
Senator Franken and the other DFL officials at the U of M event encouraged students to get out and vote for Democrats this fall and to vote fo the Senator in 2014. If you think torture — especially torture committed in our names — is less serious than kidnappings, human trafficking, and bank robberies, then vote for Senator Franken next year. If, on the other hand, you think we are a nation of laws, if you believe in checks and balances between the branches of government, if you believe that human rights, national security and simple justice demand an accounting of U.S.-committed torture, then don’t throw your vote away by casting it for Senator Franken.