Salon notes today that President Bush could decide to pardon himself, his cabinet and anyone else in his administration who may have committed war crimes by torturing and otherwise abusing suspected terrorists, or those known to “pal around with terrorists,” as Sarah Palin might put it. Although that would seem to be a quasi-admission of guilt, and no president has ever pardoned its own officials for potential war crimes before, James Ross of Human Rights Watch has written that it’s not beyond imagining that President Bush would continue to exert his executive power in just such extraordinary ways. And apparently, there’s no constitutional bar to the president doing so.
So how might that affect the new Obama administration’s plans to respond to the Bush-era war crimes? In fact, not so much. As Mark Benjamin writes in Salon today, the Obama team has so far carefully avoided any plans to prosecute Bush administration officials, reportedly planning a bipartisan investigatory commission – a sort of “truth commission,” perhaps along the lines of one proposed by Rosa Brooks or even Stuart Taylor, who first publicly raised the Bush pardon idea in the first place – as a less politically charged alternative.
That won’t satisfy those who want to see the perpetrators of illegal torture policies behind bars. But if President Bush does decide to go ahead and issue a blanket pardon for all involved, the reported Obama plan has the benefit of at least airing the truth about what happened, (and perhaps publicly humiliating the perpetrators), even if President Bush tries to use his executive power to bury it.