There has been considerable media attention given to the amazing job of Captain Sullenberger in his ability to safely land a US Airways Airbus A320 into the Hudson River in New Your City. The response of the New York ferry service and emergency response crew insured that there were no fatalities with the only major injuries involving hypothermia. Still the media coverage of this events seems to have overshadowed the still ongoing bloody conflict in Gaza, and ever further, the nomination herrings of Eric Holder for the position of attorney general.

During his confirmation hearing, Holder unequivocally held that the interrogation technique of “waterboarding” is illegal. Furthermore, Holder refused to accept the premise that torture could be acceptable if there is an impending attack (known as the “Ticking Time Bomb” scenario). Holder is also against the policy of “rendition,” the practice of handing detainees over to countries where they could be subject to torture1.

This is a huge departure from the previous administration that so desperately sought to make questionable interrogation techniques and clear human right’s violations the subject of ambiguity. Richard Armitage, former Secretary of State from 2001 to 2005, was subject to waterboarding as part of his training in the Navy during the late 60’s. “Of course waterboarding is torture. I can’t believe we’re even debating it,” Armitage said in a 2007 BBC interview. Torture is also a federal crime as well. 18 U.S.C 2340 makes it a crime for any “person acting under the color of law” to “inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control.” Bush’s Office of Legal Counsel noted in a 2003 memo that the penalty for this crime is up to twenty years in federal prison2.

Bart Gellman, a reporter for the Washington Post, talks about the role of Vice President Cheney in his book Angler. Cheney crafted an administration that attempted to convince others that their unique position in the executive meant their decisions and orders could not be questioned. In the case of warrantless wiretapping, Cheney even kept Bush in the dark that the Justice Department viewed the program as illegal3.

The breaking moment came from the famous incident in which White House officials went to see Attorney General John Ashcroft who was critically ill in the hospital after Acting Attorney General Comey refused to reauthorize the surveillance program. It was at this time Bush came to know that several dozen people in the justice department, FBI and CIA, including FBI director Robert Mueller, were prepared to resign over this program. This was the beginning of Bush’s change of course and when Cheney’s influence over the president started to diminish. Many of Bush’s top aids believed that if he hadn’t changed course, he would have surely been impeached3.

The acts of the Bush administration, specifically the ones that can be quantified and placed under the microscope of a trial such as torture and illegal surveillance, are crimes which can not be allowed to go unpunished. Bush’s ignorance is no salvation for the President of the United States to be so ambivalent in the day to day operations of his administration is nothing other than criminally negligent.

The new Obama administration must not only undo the damage Bush and Cheney have made to the executive office, but in order to restore the image of America of being a just nation to the rest of the world, the previous administration must stand for their crimes. It will be a hardship in an administration focused on unity and change, but the blatant and overt nature of the abuse of power and disregard for the rule of law is a stain that can not stand in order for this country to move forward together as a nation that cherishes human rights and abhors all forms of torture.

Many American’s now question what should not be questioned: that violation of humans rights is wrong, that torture is unequivocally illegal for any reason and in any form. Eric Holder’s confirmation hearing was a first sign and a symbol of what will hopefully be a coming time of justice. The means by which Holder and the Obama administration handle their predecessors will decide which way our nation will grown.

“No man is above the law and no man is below it: nor do we ask any man’s permission when we ask him to obey it.” -Theodore Roosevelt

“Well, when the president does it that means that it is not illegal.” -Richard Nixon

“If this were a dictatorship, it would be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I’m the dictator.” -George W. Bush

1 Holder Says He’ll Jettison Bush-Era Practices Halloran. NPR. January 15, 2009.

2 Justice After Bush. Horton. Harper’s. December 2008. p49-60

3 Cheney: A VP With Unprecedented Power Totenberg. NPR. January 15, 2009.