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In a puff piece about how wonderful Attorney General Eric Holder is, the Washington Post noted his plans to begin investigations into the behavior of officials in the Bush administration:

Then came a bombshell three days ago that has sent Washington political circles reeling: Holder’s inclination to appoint a prosecutor to examine whether interrogators tortured terrorism suspects during the Bush years . . . .

Holder signaled he was leaning toward naming a prosecutor from inside the Justice Department to examine whether CIA interrogators crossed legal lines set out by Bush lawyers in their handling of terrorism suspects. The inquiry, if it proceeds as expected within a few weeks, is designed to be narrowly confined and would not conflict with messages from President Obama about following the facts and the law where they lead, according to a senior Justice Department official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the matter is at a delicate stage.

The torture of suspects is an immoral thing to do—and usually a stupid thing to do, as well. But the timing of Holder’s moves has prompted some cynical responses : “a couple of weeks after Barack Obama’s strong approval/disapproval ratings took a turn to the unfavorable and Obamacare is looking less like a lead pipe cinch it is suddenly time to investigate the Bush administration.”

There’s good reason for such cynicism, but the real danger lies in the damage to the political foundation of a republic.

Say you have a system of government in which policy differences are criminalized—a political situation in which a change of administration allows the people who’ve lost power to be prosecuted. We have a name for what happens next: We call it a coup.

When losing power means losing your freedom or your life, you tend to grab power however you can. Cf. Ancient Rome.

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