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Williams: It’s not a priority if it comes at the expense of getting other things accomplished

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Should Obama prosecute Bush/Cheney?

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network and our coverage of the inauguration of President Barack Obama and the first days of his presidency. And the question we’re discussing is: should Bush and Cheney be prosecuted? We’re joined by David Swanson,, and also Progressive Democrats of America board member; and Dr. Faye Williams, who’s the chair of the National Congress of Black Women. Thanks for joining us. Alright. So, David, we left off in the last segment, the question is really a political question, not a legal question. As you said as we ended the last segment, it’s pretty clear a crime has probably been committed; it’s probably been confessed to. It’s a political equation: do you want to take on the political fallout of going after Bush/Cheney? But the other big piece of this: do you want to weaken the presidency when you’re the president? And if Obama wants to do that in a serious way—’cause the argument they’re giving is: “Listen, why don’t we just change things? Forget the prosecution. Let’s just make it through legislation and other kinds of measures something that can’t be done again.” Is that a legitimate argument? And if it is, what would that be?

DAVID SWANSON, PROGRESSIVE DEMOCRATS OF AMERICA: Well, yes, I want the prosecution and, yes, I want to weaken the presidency, not because I dislike Barack Obama as a president.

JAY: No, not you.

SWANSON: Would he—yes, would he want to weaken his own—?

JAY: I mean, is part of the problem here is: does he want to weaken his own presidency?

SWANSON: Well, he campaigned on a platform that included weakening the presidency and transferring power back to where it was supposed to be—in the Congress. And, in fact, if he comes in and by presidential decree reverses all of the criminal and abusive policies, that will not be the ideal solution. The ideal solution is for him to work with Congress, Congress to step up and finally do its job and reverse all of these policies, and the president to adhere to the laws as passed by Congress [inaudible]

JAY: So give a couple of concrete examples of which policies should be reversed, so people can say, “Okay, I’m going to watch the papers the next three months and I’m going to see that they reverse them or not.”

SWANSON: [That] President Bush makes a treaty with Iraq to justify three more years of war without talking to the Senate, as Congresswoman Barbara Lee has introduced in a resolution, is absolutely unconstitutional. It takes away the power to approve treaties, also takes away the power to declare war. It’s a treaty for three years of war. That should be tossed out. The president over the past eight years has seized the power of the purse, not only funding things secretly, like the early stages of invading Iraq, with money that was appropriated for Afghanistan, with no consequences, but also now throwing around trillions of dollars without any accountability or oversight for bankers, not for homeowners. And this is a problem. The president has the power now to write signing statements to rewrite laws as he signs them into law. There’s not a more quintessentially abusive act in this scheme of the separation of powers that we’re supposed to have than that, that is, to take away the power to legislate from the legislative branch. These are things that need to be changed, and it’s Congress that needs to step up and change them and President Obama that needs to adhere to the will of Congress. But there’s a very important point that I think we have to make, which is there’s a lot of talk in this town that he’d be risking some political capital to take some of these steps, and particularly to prosecute Bush and Cheney. Let me tell you, the man who threw a couple of shoes at our president is a hero to billions. Bush and Cheney are walking out of here with 22 percent popularity for Bush and less for Cheney. That’s fewer Americans than believe in UFOs. That’s essentially zero, right? You can’t get less popular. And so, yes, there is political capital in this town, in this power structure, that would be struggling against prosecution, but Barack Obama would be a hero to this nation and to billions of people around the world.

JAY: So does David arguments persuade you that when Obama says, “Not now, there are other priorities” [sic]?


JAY: Does David persuade you that Obama should make this a priority?

WILLIAMS: Oh, I’m not sure it should be the priority. No, I’m not persuaded. I think it should be on the list. As I said, I think if someone commits a crime, that the crime, you know, they should pay for the crime. Otherwise we’re setting a very bad example for the young people I work with every day, for the young people all around the country who see that a crime has been committed and wonder what—.

JAY: So should Barack Obama then direct the attorney general to begin the investigation into the crimes of Bush/Cheney?

WILLIAMS: Oh, I think so, and I—.

JAY: ‘Cause he’s made it clear he’s not going to do it.

WILLIAMS: Yes. Yes. He’s probably torn because, you know, this is the kind of person he is. He believes in redemption; he believes in forgiveness and in forward thinking. Now, as you said, as a lawyer, I know that prosecution has to be about something someone has already done, so I don’t think that’s a legitimate reason. In that respect I agree with David: we have to do something about it. But whether I want to make it a priority and to spend the next four years so that he doesn’t get reelected I’m not sure. I think David, of course, believes that the way that he could be reelected is that he lives up to prosecuting Bush and Cheney. I’m not sure about that. [inaudible]

JAY: So that makes it a political consideration.

WILLIAMS: Yes, if it’s at the expense of getting the other things accomplished, then I [inaudible]

JAY: There’s no reason why it should be at the expense. I mean, you tell your attorney general to go do it, and then you can get back to worrying about the rest of the world. But you just said something interesting: if it might cost him reelection in the next presidential election.


JAY: I mean, should that be an equation? Because David’s saying this is a fundamental issue of establishing a precedent for the power of the presidency.

WILLIAMS: It should not be a part of his, but I’m saying it’s a part of mine. If I were to risk his not winning in the next four years, then, of course, I wouldn’t make that decision. But I know also we have a lot of progressives, and I consider myself one of those progressives, and some of us feel very strongly about wanting the prosecution and believing that it should be done if we’re going to be respected not only at home, you know, among our children, but around the world. When someone confesses to a crime, I think the attorney general should look at the facts to make sure that they confessed. Were they mentally capable of making that confession when they did it? And if they were, then yes, I believe they should be prosecuted.

JAY: I won’t crack any jokes about this mental capability.

SWANSON: I’m sure you won’t.

JAY: I have nothing. So in the things you laid out as sort of litmus tests—.

WILLIAMS: Yeah, I’m not as litmus-test as David is.

JAY: If he doesn’t do those things, if four years from now the presidency has the same kind of powers that it does, does that say to you that Obama has not fulfilled his promise to you?

SWANSON: Well, some things he’s promised and some things he hasn’t, right? I mean, he’s promised to end the occupation of Iraq, which everyone understood to be total and complete and rapid. He’s promised to end the very mentality that allows wars, to work to rid the world of nuclear weapons. He’s made a lot of great promises.

WILLIAMS: Close Guantanamo.

SWANSON: To close Guantanamo—not to announce the closure, in the indefinite future, of Guantanamo, but to actually close Guantanamo.

JAY: So let’s talk about Guantanamo as a very specific—. And one of the big promises, what’s been promised now is to just stop the proceedings and start an investigation. So we don’t know how long that goes on for, and we don’t know whether it actually leads to the closing of Guantanamo or not.

SWANSON: He stopped the trials for 120 days. But what’s going to come after that, we don’t know. And there’s going to be an announcement, we think, that Guantanamo shall be closed, but no identification of when or how or what will be done with the people in it. And so, you know, I’m a progressive first and a Democrat second. I don’t put the reelection four years from now of someone who’s behavior over the coming four years I have yet to see ahead of essential questions that face our nation and our world. I take it into consideration when we get there in four years. And I think we have to push President Obama now, as he is rightly asking us to, to fulfill his better promises, and those have to include actually closing Guantanamo, actually ending the occupation of Iraq, and—.

JAY: And an actual prosecution of Bush and Cheney.

SWANSON: But the prosecution should not be done by him, should not be done by Eric Holder. Eric Holder should, as he professed to do, put the law ahead of the wishes of any president, and he should appoint an independent prosecutor independent of any political party. And that prosecutor’s work could be done in a week. He could pick a crime like torture—.

JAY: Do you agree with this idea there should be a special prosecutor?

WILLIAMS: Yes, I believe Guantanamo absolutely has to be. There was no—.

JAY: No, but do agree there should be a special prosecutor to look to begin the proceedings with Bush and Cheney?

WILLIAMS: Immediately, and I say that because it’s time for us to get that done. That was an absolute promise by President Barack Obama.

JAY: You’re talking about Guantanamo.

WILLIAMS: Yes, I know.

JAY: No, no. I’m not asking you about Guantanamo. I’m asking you—. David said that there should be an immediate appointment of a special prosecutor on the Bush/Cheney case.

WILLIAMS: Okay. Well, we started out as saying I didn’t feel that that was the first thing that he should be doing. I believe it should be among the priorities, but not the absolute top priorities.

JAY: Okay. Well, we shall see whether it becomes any kind of priority, because right now I’m not seeing it even on the agenda. Thanks for joining us. Thank you. And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Dr. E. Faye Williams is the Chair of the National Congress for Black Women. Williams is former Counsel to the U.S. Congress and Professor of International Law at Southern University Law Center in Baton Rouge, LA. She previously served as Legislative Counsel and Chief of Staff for a District of Columbia Council member.

David Swanson is the creator of, the Washington Director of and co-founder of the coalition; a board member of Progressive Democrats of America; of the Backbone Campaign; and of Voters for Peace. He serves on a working group of United for Peace and Justice. He has worked as a newspaper reporter and as a communications director, with jobs including Press Secretary for Dennis Kucinich's 2004 presidential campaign.

David Swanson's books include: War Is A Lie (2010), When the World Outlawed War (2011), and The Military Industrial Complex at 50 (2012).  He is the host of  Talk Nation Radio. He has been a journalist, activist, organizer, educator, and agitator.  Swanson helped plan the nonviolent occupation of Freedom Plaza in Washington DC in 2011.  Swanson holds a master's degree in philosophy from the University of Virginia. He has worked as a newspaper reporter and as a communications director, with jobs including press secretary for Dennis Kucinich's 2004 presidential campaign, media coordinator for the International Labor Communications Association, and three years as communications coordinator for ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. He blogs at and and works as Campaign Coordinator for the online activist organization Swanson also works on the communications committee of Veterans For Peace, of which he is an associate (non-veteran) member. Swanson is Secretary of Peace in the Green Shadow Cabinet.