Emily Bazelon takes readers' questions on the crimes potentially committed by the Bush administration.
Emily Bazelon takes readers' questions on the crimes potentially committed by the Bush administration.
Real-time discussions with Slate writers.
July 25 2008 2:16 PM

Oughta Be a Crime

Emily Bazelon takes readers' questions on the legal case against members of the Bush administration.

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Emily Bazelon: Hmm. This is a tough one for me. Here's a story about the incident, so everyone knows what we're talking about.

Weighing for publication: Obama, at this moment in his life, really can't expect to have a zone of privacy, at least in any public setting. Weighing against publication: It's a prayer! From the Wailing Wall! And Obama said absolutely nothing newsworthy in it. I think I go with no. (Even though I spent yesterday afternoon arguing vociferously that the National Enquirer was right to go ahead with its John Edwards story.)


Austin, Texas: Isn't there a pretty good chance that the next administration (even a Democratic one) will, once in office, decide that unfettered executive power and secrecy aren't actually such a bad thing? After all, power corrupts...

Emily Bazelon: This is a real danger. Presidents, historically, aren't good at giving back power once the office they hold has acquired it. And Congress—the loser when the executive overreaches—isn't good at asserting itself. It's a fractious, not-unified body, by definition. And so I think you're right: We need to watch out for future presidents who turn the excesses of the Bush administration into an accepted norm. When the lines move, and the whole conversation shifts with it, we forget what we stand to lose.



Fairfax, Va.: Do you think the public cares about the Bush administration crimes? If not, is it the fault of the mainstream media's desire to keep people unaware of what is going on in America?

Emily Bazelon: The press and the public are always in a two-way tango. Especially in this day of instant and constant reader feedback, and lots of data about what people read and view (at least on the Web), there is always a back and forth. That said, of course you're right that editors make choices about what to cover and how to play stories. I actually think that the topics we covered in our feature—coercive interrogation, warrantless wiretapping, the destruction of the CIA interrogation tapes, politicized hiring and firing at the Justice Department—have been well-aired in the print media. Lots of ink, lots of Page One. I know less about television, which often matters more. These issues are hard to cover on TV. The pictures often aren't great, the stories can be weedy and complicated, etc. But I don't really think blaming the media, in a blanket way, is the best move in general, though it's certainly a common one. There's a laziness to it, I think—the media are an ever-ripe target, a huge institution that's easy to bash without demanding any real accountability.


Washington: This whole idea is crazy ... Clinton started the policy of rendition—giving suspects to other countries who tortured them. Clinton took payoffs from the Chinese Army in relation to their entrance into the WTO without floating their currency. When Bush came into office in 2000, why didn't he stop the whole government to investigate this stuff? Get over yourselves—this is the real world, not the blogosphere.

Emily Bazelon: You're right that no president has clean hands. But prosecution is by definition a selective beast. The failure to correct past wrongdoing isn't really an excuse for throwing up our hands at every single action taken within the executive branch. Is it?


Arlington, Va.: Will it ever end? And will people be brought to justice?

Emily Bazelon: Well, this administration will end. The tension between civil liberties and national security won't, of course. But maybe the next president won't see international treaties that the U.S. has signed, and laws that we have passed, as optional in quite the way this one has. To me, far more than the question of punishment, what matters is a restoration of the rule of law. That's a lofty sentiment and sentence, and it means different things to different people. But to me it means something very different than the torture memos authored by John Yoo and signed by Jay Bybee (now a sitting federal judge on the Ninth Circuit).


Emily Bazelon: Thanks so much for the great questions, everyone—it's been a pleasure chatting with you. Enjoy the weekend.