Friday, January 9, 2009

Torture Prosecutor Tops 70,000 Questions for Obama on Change

Torture Prosecutor Tops 70,000 Questions for Obama on Change.Gov

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A whopping 70,000 questions poured into Change.gov over the past week, in response to the Obama transition team's call for citizen queries to the president-elect. After votes from about 100,000 people, the top ranked question asks Obama whether he will appoint a special prosecutor to investigate allegations of torture and illegal surveillance by the U.S. government.
I've been working with activist Bob Fertik to organize support for the question, and several progressive bloggers urged readers and Obama supporters to vote for it last week. Digby, who has written extensively about the Bush administration's abuse of the rule of law, recently reported on the progress:

I wrote a post about [an] initiative spearheaded by Ari Melber of The Nation and Democrats.com to ask President-elect Obama if he will appoint a special prosecutor to investigate war crimes in the Bush administration over at Change.gov. (In a previous round, it was the sixth most asked question...) This time, through their efforts, it's number one. This is particularly important, since the press has only asked Obama about this one time, last April. And a lot has happened since then, most obviously the fact that Vice President is all over television admitting to war crimes as if he's proud of it.

Then The New York Times picked up the news:

[T]he number one submission on the popular "Open for Questions" portion of the site might seem more than a little impolitic to [President Bush]: "Will you appoint a Special Prosecutor -- ideally Patrick Fitzgerald -- to independently investigate the gravest crimes of the Bush Administration, including torture and warrantless wiretapping," wrote Bob Fertik of New York, who runs the Web site, Democrats.com.


Though the Obama team has promised to answer some of the top questions as early as this week, they have not said whether they will respond to Mr. Fertik's, which has received more than 22,000 votes since the second round of the question-and-answer feature began on Dec. 30. The site logged more than 1.5 million votes for 20,000-plus questions... The second highest-ranked submission, which is about oversight of the nation's banking industry, is several thousand of votes behind the query about a special prosecutor. Mr. Fertik's question has been pushed to the top, in part, by a coalition of liberal bloggers...

The national press corps has not raised this issue with Obama since his victory. (When it surfaced in April, Obama said he would order his attorney general to "immediately review" the potential crimes.) And while leading question in the last Change.gov forum was dispatched breezily -- Will you legalize marijuana? No. -- this one is far more challenging, both substantively and politically.

The Times notes that Obama's team has "not said" whether it will even answer Fertik's question, though ignoring the question that came in first out of 74,000 would turn this exercise into a farce. A terse, evasive answer would be similarly unacceptable. After all, there would be little point in this online dialogue if it reiterates things we already know, (Obama is not in N.O.R.M.L.), and refuses to provide new information.

That's why this may be the first big test for Change.gov as a genuinely interactive dialogue.

Thousands of Americans are asking whether President Obama will order an independent investigation to ensure our laws are enforced -- in an era when powerful people in government have engaged in criminal conduct and relentlessly tried to make their behavior off limits for media and political discussion. We expect a "yes," "no" or detailed explanation of how and when Obama and his aides will make this decision. Time is running out, of course, because the question must be answered, for Congress and the public, before Eric Holder's confirmation hearing. He must explain how he will restore independence, professionalism and the rule of law to a Justice Department that politicized U.S. attorneys and covered up torture and warrantless surveillance.

Law professor Jonathan Turley, a nonpartisan legal analyst who testified before Congress in favor of President Clinton's impeachment, recently explained that Holder simply should not be confirmed if he is not prepared to enforce the laws banning torture. "Eric Holder should be asked the same question that Mukasey refused to answer in his confirmation hearing: is waterboarding a crime?" Professor Turley stated. "If he refuses to answer or denies that it is a crime, he should not be confirmed. If he admits that it is a crime, he should order a criminal investigation." According to Change.gov, the crowds agree with the experts on this one.

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