From the Introduction: Why We Shouldn't Simply Move on
Before President George W. Bush left office, many people speculated that he would pardon himself as protection against possible future prosecution for crimes. People assumed he would do the same for Vice President Richard B. Cheney and his top cabinet officials, advisors, and aides. There was a good deal of discussion on cable TV news, blogs, opinion columns, and political talk shows: How extensive is the pardon power? Had self- pardons been tried before? When would it happen?
"In Bush Final Days, Are Pardons in the Works?" asked NPR's All Things Considered on November 23, 2008. "Will Bush Pardon Himself ?" wrote Human Rights Watch director Kenneth Roth in the Daily Beast. "Get ready for mass pardons," headlined a pundit in the Hill's blog.
The president did nothing of the sort. Instead, he retired without a seeming ruffle of tension, helicoptering out of Washington, D.C., and heading to a new home in a Dallas suburb and his ranch in Crawford, Texas. When he publicly emerged, two years later, he was touting a newly published memoir, and proudly proclaiming that he had approved a form of torture, waterboarding--"Damn right," he said in his memoir, Decision Points. The former president had no apologies for starting a war in Iraq that had taken the lives of thousands and ruined many more: he thought the world was better off for it, even though no weapons of mass destruction, his ostensible reason for the war, were found in Iraq.
The vice president didn't even wait for his term of office to end before he started burnishing his role in waterboarding, war, and warrantless surveillance. "Those who allege that we've been involved in torture or that somehow we violated the Constitution or laws with the terrorist surveillance program simply don't know what they're talking about," he said in an ABC News interview on December 15, 2008.
Neither seemed perturbed by the prospect of prosecution. Now we know why.
While in office, they had already created walls of protection to prevent the sting of the law from reaching them. Behind the scenes, President Bush and Vice President Cheney worked--tirelessly, it seems--to inoculate themselves against every manner and form of accountability for misdeeds.
They passed provisions changing the laws that they had violated, then giving the changes retroactive application. They made existing laws so convoluted and confusing that probably no prosecutor could enforce them. E-mails in their computers conveniently disappeared, and the retention systems failed. They stamped "state secrets" on legal actions that might open their misdeeds to scrutiny. They set up straw facades and fake justifications, and even slipped them in the law as pop-up defenses.
In short, in an unprecedented way in American history, they engineered and fixed the system from the inside, building buffers of protection for themselves--behind a moat, on a hill, locked and gated, seemingly above the law. This book explores how the Bush administration used its power to manipulate the system, cheat justice, and get away with crimes.
Except . . . they had a lot of ground to cover. Their transgressions were so vast that they left open some small keyholes where the law can still reach them. This book is also about how to hold them accountable for the crimes they committed.
In the years since they departed, more information has emerged about their actions--documents have been declassified, investigative reporters and authors have probed, nonprofit groups have filed Freedom of Information ...