Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Legacy That Keeps On Giving: Stench Of Bush Era Crimes Too Great To Ignore

No one in their right mind (which pretty much excludes most left wingers and an unfortunate number of liberals) would expect Barack Obama to make a completely clean break with the Bush administration's more draconian policies and practices. But we are now about one-tenth of the way into the young Democrats' first term and being of sound mind myself, I am bitterly disappointed at his failure to make breaks with the past -- let alone investigate aspects of the past -- in several crucial areas.

It is fair to say that it is unlikely anyone will be waterboarded or otherwise tortured on Obama's watch as they routinely were during Bush's. At least I hope not. This has made me feel only marginally better in the face of the White House signaling that there will be no big changes in his predecessor's indefinite detention policy and only small changes in the military tribunal system, among other excesses. However, the news over the weekend that Attorney General
Eric Holder and other officials may be compelled to move on several of the greatest excesses is welcome, if overdue.

These excesses include:

* The routine torture of prisoners apprehended in the wake of the 9/11 attacks at so-called CIA black sites, Abu Ghraib and
Guantánamo Bay.

* A highly classified but apparently never used assassination squad kept secret from the Congressional leadership on orders of Vice President Cheney, who anointed personal enforcer David Addington to approve personally every government official who was told about it.

* The mass killing of prisoners in Afghanistan by local forces allied with the U.S. as it toppled the Taliban. The Bush administration had blocked investigations of the matter.

Meanwhile, waiting in the wings is what is expected to be a blockbuster report by the Justice Department’s ethics office on John Yoo and other former department lawyers who wrote legal opinions justifying the use of torture, while the CIA says it will release part of a 2004 agency inspector general’s report on interrogations that questioned the legality and effectiveness of them. Both are due out at the end of August.

I have made an uneasy peace with Obama showing no interest in prosecuting Bush administration perpetrators for their wrongdoings.

The president has made it clear that he wants to look forward and I know that any effort to look back -- no matter how justified -- will be depicted as a witch hunt and damaging to national security by Republicans, whose supporters already are noting that the spate of new revelations and calls for investigations are occurring just as the president's political fortunes seem to be sagging.

That could not be more wrong because no one knows better than Obama that they would be a ginormous distraction at a time when the economy probably needs to be jolted with another dose of stimulus and the health-care reform and climate change bogeymen must be faced down.

But now the Bush era stench may have become too great to continue to ignore or to deal with by obfuscations, vague promises and half measures, and there is a certain inevitability -- and, I daresay, justice -- to that. As well as a belated opportunity to live up to our ideals.

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