We’ve had several spirited discussions over the past week about anger towards lame duck President George W. Bush, hate in general in Internet discussion (in blogs, comments to stories, discussion forums, et. al) and a desire on the part of many Americans to extract some form of punishment from Bush and his administration.
MSNBC’s Keith Olberman devoted a segment of "Countdown" to the subject Friday night, interviewing former White House counsel John Dean of Watergate fame.
Dean feels that if America doesn’t do something about prisoner abuses, including torture that clearly violated the terms of the Geneva Convention, then another country is liable to pursue the case and embarrass this country and the new administration of Barack Obama:
From the video report above it is obvious that the Obama administration is tiptoeing around the idea of taking the Bush administration to task or court over torture. Obama, to his credit, is stating publicly that torture will not be allowed in his administration and his pick for CIA Director, Leon Panetta, is a loud and vocal critic of torture.
But Vice President Joe Biden seems to favor "moving on" in comments quoted in the Olbermann piece.
When the nation needs to focus so much of its energy on restoring economic health and finding a way to deal with wars on two fronts, can it afford the detraction of going after a former President and his administration on a case that may or may not be winnable?
I don’t have the answer to that. I wish I did. Of all the questionable actions of the Bush administration during the past years, the treatment of prisoners, the use of torture and the abandonment of basic human rights through excesses of Gitmo and rendition come the closest to crimes that might be provable in court.
But at what cost to the nation’s psyche? Some argue that punishment is necessary to make sure future Presidents don’t abuse the law so openly. Others believe that Presidents — particularly in times of war — can go around the law if they feel it is in the best interests of the nation and national security.
I don’t believe that any nation or its leaders can ever justify torture of human beings on legal, ethical or moral grounds. But war itself is torture. The hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians who have died from Bush’s invasion of that nation died in horrible, torturous ways. Some feel war itself is a crime.
Perhaps a case can be made against the President of the United States for his involvement in the torture of others. If so, then we should pursue that case. If we can indeed prove that crimes were committed then we should do so and punish those responsible for those crimes.
But such an investigation must be driven by facts and reason, not politics or bloodlust. If it turns into just another political witchhunt then it will be just another distraction from the more urgent problems this nation faces.
Many Presidents have abused the powers ot office. Two have been impeached but not convicted. One was forced to resign from office in disgrace to avoid impeachment and almost certain conviction. His pardon by his successor sparked national outrage at the time but was later viewed by historians as necessary for a nation that needed to heal and move on.
Some battles should be fought. Some should not. Sometimes it’s best to keep your powder dry and live to fight another day.