It took some guts for the President to make the torture memos public; let's give him credit for that. He undoubtedly is surrounded by buzzing "intelligence" apparatchiks, a bunch of Chicken Little’s announcing that the sky is falling.
It would take even more guts to let the law take its course and make subject to prosecution people who violated laws and treaty obligations (those are laws too). The question of prosecution should not be a matter for argument. If this really is a country of laws, it will happen -- and we have direct experience of what happens when executive law breakers are let off.
So what happened? Nixon, personally, aged out of most action, rather bitterly. But the thugs (yes, they are thugs) who learned executive abuse of the power under his administration came right back.
Donald Rumsfeld: functionary under Nixon; White House chief of staff, then Secretary of Defense under Ford; diplomatic envoy for Reagan, including taking the old boy's greetings to Saddam Hussein during the Iraqi dictator's war on Iran; Secretary of Defense under Bush II, architect of the Iraq war, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.
Dick Cheney: assistant to Rumsfeld in the Ford White House, then Chief of Staff; a Congressman under Reagan working for such causes as blocking sanctions on South African apartheid; Secretary of Defense under Bush I; exponent of the monarchical executive; finally a Veep who claimed to be a previously unheard of fourth branch of government.
Those two old wannabe dictators aren't likely to be back -- it's their intellectual heirs who must face legal jeopardy if Obama's verbal repudiation of torture is to amount to anything. Addington, Feith, Bybee, Bradbury, and Yoo, minimally, need to explain to a court their conspiracy to violate American and international law. If they are allowed to waltz off to live on right wing welfare (and a federal judge's salary in the case of Bybee), Obama hasn't restored the rule of law. He's just postponed the country's next leap into the abyss.
Mr. President, you are playing with being your own law unto yourself there. If an officer of the law uncovers evidence that crimes have been committed, investigation is mandatory, not optional.
There was also this:
Many commentators, notably the ACLU lawyers whose efforts helped drag this crap into the light, wonder whether the President and his Attorney General aren't leaving themselves some wiggle room for prosecutions in that statement. It says nothing about the intellectual authors of the torture -- nor about CIA spooks who got a lot more enthusiastic about slamming around their prisoners than even the antiseptic bureaucratese of the torture memos allows. (There's plenty of evidence of such "excess" torture in the recent report of the International Committee of the Red Cross. And after all, 108 prisoners died in U.S. custody by 2005 during the period of mandated abuse.)
As usual, the people of this country will get as much democracy and rule of law as we demand, and no more. So we have work to do, forcing unwilling politicians to do the right thing. Obama has lobbed the ball into the people's court. It's a tough game -- can we take it?