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The Way Forward on Holding the Bush/Cheney Administration Accountable for its Crimes

By Dave Lindorff

As someone who has spent nearly three frustrating years actively advocating the impeachment of President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney for their many crimes and abuses of power, I have to admit that not only did it not happen, but that the likelihood of their being indicted and brought to trial now that they have left office is exceedingly slim.

While both men are clearly guilty of war crimes, and have in fact admitted to willful violation of international law and the US Criminal Code relating to torture and treatment of captives, and while Bush has admitted to the felony of willfully violating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), and while a good case of defrauding Congress could be made against both men with regard to their claims made to justify the invasion of Iraq, not to mention a host of other crimes large and small, I think it is clear that the new administration of President Barack Obama does not want to be seen trying to put the president and vice president in the slammer (where they so deserve to be). For better or worse, Obama has decided to pursue a less confrontational politics in Washington.

That said, I would argue that there can be a good case made, both legally and politically, for the convening of a Truth & Reconciliation Commission, which could put all key people in the last administration on the stand and under oath and klieg lights to explain just what they did and why.

Of course, such a commission, if established by an act of Congress, would on one level amount to letting off the hook people whose criminal actions have led to the deaths of over a million people, including over 4500 Americans in uniform, to the torturing of hundreds and perhaps thousands, and to the undermining of the constitutional rights of all the people of this nation. And yet, it may be the best way to establish just what the extent and nature of those crimes were, who was harmed, and how to avoid such reckless and criminal behavior by a president and an administration in the future.

Furthermore, if properly constituted and empowered, such a commission could still lead to prosecutions in the end.

Here’s how it might work: The commission would call administration officers, whether former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld or Vice President Cheney. Under oath, they would be asked what their roles were in, say, the authorization, promotion and covering up of torture. If they answered truthfully, they would be immune from prosecution for any crimes they admitted to, but the world would know for all time what they had done. If they refused to answer, or if they were to lie to the commission, however, they would be subject to possible indictment for contempt or perjury—charges that could place them before a judge or even a grand jury.

Moreover, if lower-ranking members of the administration, called before such a commission, chose the route of coming clean about their role in administration crimes, it would both provide evidence that could later be used to prosecute higher officials who might refuse to appear and testify before such a commission, and at the same time would tend to create a public sentiment in favor of prosecution. A key to the success of such an approach is that the enabling legislation would have to hold out the possibility of prosecution for those who refused to participate, or who lied to the commission.

A truth & reconciliation commission would have to be authorized by an act of Congress, I believe, because only Congress could offer the necessary waiver from prosecution for a capital crime like torture in which victims have died, as is the case with the torture that US military forces and CIA agents have engaged in over the past eight years. But the new Congress should be willing to support such an act, because, far from being retribution, the truth & reconciliation process, which was used in South Africa, and which has been used in other countries recovering from past criminal rule, could be presented as a way of getting out the facts, and of restoring the country’s international reputation, without trying to put anyone behind bars.

Moreover, I think that the vast majority of the American public wants to see some kind of reckoning made with the past eight years of secret government, official lying, and criminal actions by many of the top officials of the land.

If South Africans can respond to generations of a criminal apartheid regime and a police state with a truth & reconciliation process, so can we in America.

It is, after all, the truth, not the punishment of criminals, however heinous, that sets us free.
DAVE LINDORFF is a Philadelphia-based journalist. His latest book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006 and now available in paperback edition). His work is available at

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Are you in prison, Dave?

I want to deter similar acts by future presidents, so for me the question is what will accomplish THAT.

Either that or get revenge on the people that we disagree with politically.

It's better to have a truth commission than to sweep everything under the rug.

The biggest problem is that a truth commission will only tell people what happened (but we already knew as the criminals already confessed on national TV). It won't make a judgment as to whether something was right or wrong. Whereas prosecution and conviction mean we acknowledge to the world that torture is wrong, the conclusion of a truth commission might be, "Yes, torture is authorized at the highest level. It's against the Geneva Conventions, but it is necessary to keep this country safe. It has worked. No terrorist attacks happened after we implemented torture, right?" This is the theme being played over and over (as in a recent Washington Post op-ed by Marc A. Thiessen, chief speechwriter for Bush, which defends the necessity of torture), and I wouldn't be surprised to hear it again at the end of the commission hearing.

It's doubtful that such a conclusion would prevent a future imperial presidency.

Surely you heard Philippe Sands recent interview:
The way I see it is that without accountability, truth is just a word that may appease some while giving carte blanche to any government officials to (again)break the law. We must not let this happen. We have to push for an investigation and remind President Obama of his words:

"Now, if I found out that there were high officials who knowingly, consciously broke existing laws, engaged in cover-ups of those crimes with knowledge forefront, then I think a basic principle of our Constitution is nobody is above the law -- and I think that's roughly how I would look at it.”

There were many in South Africa who were outraged and dismayed that the new government of Nelson Mandela chose to go with a truth commission rather than a sweeping roundup and prosecution of apartheid era criminals. However, the work of the truth commission was impressive, and accomplished much. It's not clear what a prosecution approach would have succeeded in accomplishing.

In our case, we have had zero success with impeachment, and are not likely to have any more success with gettiing a special prosecutor. The new administration, whatever its fine words before election, has clearly decided it doesn't want to be seen as aggressively trying to put the last administration behind bars. I think it's wrong-headed, as do most readers of this site, but that is the reality we're faced with.

I'm suggesting a way that could be sold politically, since I think most Americans would like to find a way to avoid a repeat of the last eight years. And if such a commission were properly constituted and enabled, it could nonetheless lead to prosecutions, if the top guys proved unwilling to cooperate fully and honestly.

Columnist and investigative reporter Dave Lindorff is author, most recently (with Barbara Olshansky) of The Case for Impeachment (St. Martins, May 2006). His work is available at and at

1. This ain't South Africa. In OUR country, the criminal politicians LOVE "truth commissions" because it gives them an "official" seal stamped on their revisionist history... examples? 9/11 Commission, the Warren Commission, The Church Commission... All these "commissions" and no one gets held responsible for their crimes. Now why is that you think, Dave?

Is it really a "truth" commission, just because they slap that name on it? Was the Iraq War about "freedom" just because they slapped that name on it?

2. There has been an active "truth" commission going on for years, Mr. Lindorff. One conducted by scientists, engineers, politicians, CIA agents, physicists, educators, professors, pilots, policemen, mathematicians, whistle-blowers, architects, first responders, historians, ex-Bush administration officials, demolition experts, and just plain concerned citizens...

And you crapped all over it, Mr. Lindorff...

You came out on record and without any facts without any research, and you just pissed all over their years of hard work, in public. Based on what? "they must be crazy"... because?

Let me explain to you, very quickly, the damage you and your kind do sir. You're called "gate keepers" and your service to the system is that you appear to be leading the call for truth and justice, but just so long as it stays in the realm of manageable (and ultimately, unsuccessful) perimeters.

I wonder if good, well meaning people, take Mr. Swanson here, would have given a little more attention to or actually taken a little more time to read the volumes of scientific work put forward by the credible researchers who have risked their careers and their livelihoods, to call attention to the fact that the official story is as full of holes, as EVERY OTHER GODDAMN THING THIS PEST ADMINISTRATION HAS TOLD US, had people like you, Mr. Lindorff, not spouted off with out any information, your mindless opinions.

I wonder, sir, if you really understand the damage gate-keepers like yourself have done.

United under one banner, the fragmented "peace" and "anti-war" and "impeachment" movements would have had an effect these past few years, sir. And the one thing they all had in common, the genesis of the criminality of BushCo, is the ONE THING people like you scared them away from...

Because of your uneducated rantings about the 9/11 Truth movement and your denigration and insults to those good people who were and are working daily to end this criminal regime, many other activist feared being labeled in the same manner. And though they may have had their own questions about what happened that day, or they may even be MIHOPers themselves, they kept quiet and kept their group away from such information. For fear of being ridiculed by blather idiots like yourself, Mr. Lindorff.

I like how you put that little book blurb on the end of your comment. As if we didn't know that you are only about selling your books at any given opportunity. I think you put a little blurb like that at the end of comments you left on the 9/11 Blogger story they did about you when they put up that video of you on the park bench talking to someone from WeAreChange... you know the one, don't you... the one where you said there needs to be another investigation into 9/11? Remember that Mr. Lindorff?

But that was a while ago, wasn't it sir? Your book just came out, and I guess marketing is marketing huh? How many 9/11 Truthers have your useless book sitting on their shelves now I wonder.

There is your "truth commission" Mr. Lindorff, run by scientists, engineers, politicians, CIA agents, physicists, educators, professors, pilots, policemen, mathematicians, whistle-blowers, architects, first responders, historians, ex-Bush administration officials, demolition experts, and just plain concerned citizens...

But I guess that one doesn't count. What you want is one run by Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, and Harry Reid. You want one run by politicians who are on the payroll of military contractors and international banking interests. You want a "truth commission" sir, run by people who have a vested interest in keeping this corrupt system just as it is.

I just wanted to remind you sir. Remind you of what you have done for the peace and impeachment and anti-war movements in this country. I wanted to remind you of the people you slandered and those you turned your back on.

I wanted to remind you sir, because we remember and will always remember, each time we walk past one of your dust covered books sitting on a shelf at the bookstore.

Your "truth commission" is a bullshit idea... and people are getting tired of hearing your bullshit ideas, Mr. Lindorff.

Lindorff is a false opposition parrot. He is kind of like Chomsky, but more naive. It's disturbing to still find his articles here.

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