It’s the 100th day of our new president’s term in office and a good time to look back at how he’s done. I’ve been on the “O Train” for a long time — having been called an Obama “dog washer” long before they had a dog to wash — so it’s no surprise that I approve of the job he’s doing. Like everyone who isn’t a Haterade-drinking Republican with an axe to grind, I give him high marks. But unlike my fellow Obamaniacs, I don’t think he’s done any better than an “A-” in his first semester. The “A” is for passing the stimulus package, negotiating the banking and auto industry bail-outs, and setting timetables for closing Guantanamo and for ending the occupation of Iraq. The “minus” is for his handling of the lawyers who crafted the methods in the Bush torture memos and the interrogators who carried them out. An “A+” President has to take a tougher stand for the rule of law. Luckily for our academically-overachieving Chief Executive, there is another smart black guy in D.C. who can help him bring his grade up.
Unless you were hibernating last week, you know President Obama authorized the release of memos detailing CIA interrogation methods approved by George W. Bush that basically amount to torture. Don’t be fooled by the fraudulent legal theory that says the methods used went as close to torture as possible without actually becoming torture by definition. The theory assumes no pain and suffering at all until the point of torture, which means it’s complete nonsense. Still, the release of these memos made a lot of Republicans very nervous — including Karl Rove and Dick Cheney — and got them complaining about the needs of CIA officers and prosecution of former administration officials based on policy differences.
That’s where Eric Holder gets involved. In another time, he would be kind of a big deal as the first black Attorney General. As it is, he’s Tracy Morgan to Barack Obama’s Tim Meadows: the other black guy. Holder said not only would CIA officers not be prosecuted, but the U.S. government would represent them and cover their costs if they faced legal proceedings overseas. His Justice Department has opened one investigation into whether or not Bush administration attorneys lied in the memos and another into the destruction of at least two videotapes of CIA interrogations using these methods. It’s not a crime to give bad legal advice, so hack lawyers John Yoo and Jay Bybee are safe. But when a federal judge in a criminal trial or a fact-finding investigation like the 9/11 Commission asks for tapes or transcripts of interrogations and you not only don’t turn them over, but decide years later to destroy them (as former head of the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, Jose Rodriguez reportedly did), you’ve got serious problems. Rodriguez potentially committed the crime of obstruction of justice and the Bush Justice Department reviewed the tapes before approving that potential crime.
That’s not going to sit well with a guy like Holder who called for ending “all U.S. programs and practices that are engaged in torture” last July before he even got this job. He’s going to want to know who signed off on the destruction of the tapes, what methods were used, if they were authorized, and by whom. With his A.G. asking the questions in a criminal investigation, the President won’t be seen as going after former Bush administration officials when it comes out that these torture methods were approved at the highest levels, possibly even the Oval Office, and were in use months before the memos legalizing them ever existed.
A two-term presidency spans about 3,000 days. Since it’s impossible to imagine a Republican successfully challenging his re-election in 2012, we should probably be thinking of Barack Obama’s time in office as a marathon and not a sprint. The president is lucky Jose Rodriguez was dumb enough to destroy those tapes because that opened the door to possible criminal charges which would allow the Attorney General to investigate the Bush CIA and the interrogation methods they used. Despite everything else he’s done since January, the biggest accomplishment of Obama’s first 100 days might be using Washington’s other black guy, Holder, to hold the previous administration accountable for their mistakes in order to satisfy his Democratic base while saying it’s time for “reflection, not retribution” so he doesn’t lose moderate Republicans in the process.
Kenny Mack is a multi-platform content provider living in Santa Monica whose money is on Holder to beat Obama in their inevitable one-on-one basketball game. His past columns are archived at www.ifyoumissedit.com and he can be reached at email@example.com.