I find Thomas Friedman's arguments against prosecution for Bush administration officials who broke the law underwhelming, as I do his retroactive defense of his support for a war in Iraq on the grounds that it has kept al-Qaeda occupied and that's why we haven't had another attack. The logical conclusion of this argument is that we should thank the Bush administration and their supporters in the press (like, ahem, Tom Friedman) for manipulating the country into war under false pretenses because of its alleged peripheral effects. I wonder how many other wars the American people will be lied into for their own good.
The president’s decision to expose but not prosecute those responsible for this policy is surely unsatisfying; some of this abuse involved sheer brutality that had nothing to do with clear and present dangers. Then why justify the Obama compromise? Two reasons: the first is that because justice taken to its logical end here would likely require bringing George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and other senior officials to trial, which would rip our country apart; and the other is that Al Qaeda truly was a unique enemy, and the post-9/11 era a deeply confounding war in a variety of ways.
America will never find a shortage of unique enemies: The British Empire was not the Confederacy, the Nazis were not the Soviets, and the North Vietnamese were not al-Qaeda. Every potential conflict brings the prospect of a "unique" enemy for America to fight, for us to abandon the rule of law every time we face one simply means our society isn't governed by the rule of law at all. The same goes for the notion that crimes shouldn't be prosecuted if committed by high-level officials simply because it would "rip the country apart." If we're going to make high-level government officials immune from prosecution from any crimes they might commit in pursuit of their duties we should simply pass a law saying so. Otherwise the notion that we live in a country governed by laws rather than the arbitrary and convenient excercise of authority is mere pretense.
-- A. Serwer