Criminalizing Policy Differences

By David Swanson

President Obama wants to avoid criminalizing policy differences and avoid partisan witch hunts. This is taken to mean that Holder will not appoint a special prosecutor for torture.

But the only reason everyone is focused on torture as something to prosecute is that Obama has sought to make it a policy difference. We could prosecute illegal aggressive war and attacks on civilians, but Obama is continuing the illegal occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan and has already attacked Pakistan. We could prosecute illegal spying, but Obama appears to most observers willing to engage in it. And so on.

What to do? Clearly one option is not to prosecute for the crimes to be continued and not prosecute for the crimes being discontinued. But that sets a very dangerous precedent. Another option would be to prosecute for all the crimes, even the ones ongoing, and to include Democrats among those held accountable. But that won’t happen. So we’re left with the criminalization of policy differences.

But, remember, 8 years ago nobody supported torture. It was not a policy. It was simply a crime. It is by treating these crimes as potentially legal that Obama and the rest of us do just the opposite of criminalizing policy differences: we policy-difference crimes.

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