As George W. Bush prepares to kick back in his new $2.1 million home in Dallas, the 62-year-old former president may be left to enjoy retirement without ever accounting for his alleged crimes in office.
After years complaining that the Bush administration instituted torture, lied its way into a war that killed more than 4,000 Americans, and generally treated the Constitution like toilet paper in a Taco Bell bathroom, senior Democrats now show little stomach to pursue criminal charges.
Asked about investigating Bush before he took office Jan. 20, President Obama told ABC on Jan. 11, “We need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) parroted the same line Jan. 18 on Fox News.
Some in Congress disagree now that Democrats control Capitol Hill and the White House. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, introduced a bill Jan. 6 to investigate everything from waterboarding to wiretapping to extraordinary rendition. It initially listed seven co-sponsors, but more are now climbing on board.
“The need for a bipartisan commission to bring the facts to light—and for a special prosecutor to ensure accountability—can no longer be denied,” Conyers told WW in a written statement.
WW asked Oregon’s six Democratic congressmen and senators if they plan to hold the Bush administration accountable for its alleged violations of state, federal and international law.
Two gave a written response. Several staffers indicated their bosses were too busy with the inauguration to answer (we know how challenging it is to hold a Maker’s Mark in one hand and a cell phone in the other). Only Rep. Peter DeFazio called us back, saying he plans to co-sponsor Conyers’ bill.
“I don’t understand the reluctance to have an orderly process of investigation,” DeFazio said. “We’re not talking a vendetta or witch hunt here. We’re talking when, where and how were laws broken, and who was responsible for breaking those laws. That’s the way our system works.”
Here’s a rundown of what our representatives in Washington, D.C., have said before, and where they stand (or don’t stand) now.
—News intern Daniel Green contributed to this report.
Sen. Ron Wyden
“The Senator continues to doubt that there exists any legal basis for the President’s actions [on warrantless wiretapping]” (undated post on Wyden’s website). Torture methods are “practices that violate our values and violate the rule of law” (2008 Senate speech).
Wyden’s office didn’t reply to repeated phone calls seeking comment.
Sen. Jeff Merkley
“Torture is always wrong. If Gordon Smith cannot grasp that simple principle, he has no business representing Oregon in the United States Senate” (2008 news release in Merkley’s winning 2008 campaign against Smith, the incumbent).
Merkley’s office released a written statement: “It is important for the health of our democracy that we have an open and honest accounting of what transpired over the last eight years. While we face crises right now that require us to be forward-looking, we must also understand that we cannot solve those crises, or prevent them from happening again, without understanding exactly how we got to this place.”
Rep. Earl Blumenauer
“The evidence clearly points to a violation of Oregon law in order to hide the true nature and breadth of this extraordinary rendition program” (2005 letter to House leaders). “ Torture violates not only the laws and values of our country but all standards of decent human conduct” (2008 House speech). “Now is the time for Congress, which has been asleep at the switch allowing the administration’s despicable excesses, to do its job” (2006 House speech).
Blumenauer’s office did not reply to repeated phone calls and emails seeking comment.
Rep. David Wu
“Guantanamo is anathema to our values as a nation, governed by the rule of law” (2007 letter written by Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., and co-signed by Wu).
Wu’s office released a written statement saying he plans to co-sponsor Conyers’ bill but that it’s not the top priority. “We are a nation governed by the rule of law and one that respects human rights; even in a time of war, we must not sacrifice our core beliefs. However, this new Congress and administration are bringing so much fresh energy to the problems that we face that I don’t want to spend too much time looking backward,” the statement said.
Rep. Peter DeFazio
“[The responsibility for prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib] extends all the way up the chain of command, to the highest reaches of the military hierarchy and its civilian leadership” (reading from an Army Times article in 2004 on the House floor).
“The only way to perpetuate respect for the law—and respect from future administrations that might have the same imperial bent as George Bush and Dick Cheney—is to enforce the law. I think investigations are warranted, ” DeFazio told WW by phone.
Rep. Kurt Schrader
WW could find no public statements from Schrader during his 2008 campaign, his first for Congress, on alleged crimes by the Bush administration.
Schrader’s office did not reply to repeated phone calls and emails seeking comment.