Part III of III
Last week, a friend of mine told me that he didn’t think that investigations and/or prosecutions for Bush officials who were responsible for torture were a good idea because it would divide the country and prevent us from moving forward. He cited Gerald Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon as an example of national unity superseding law.
But the cases are quite different by nature. Watergate was an internally American issue, the victims were few, and a law was broken — I think the pardon was wrong, but I think the presidential pardon should be abolished.
Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and the CIA’s Extraordinary Rendition program were not internal manners. They put our and our allies’ troops at risk, not to mention their sovereign territories. They also did away with a long legal and historical precedent. But the biggest point is that, of the people who were tortured, some were innocent, some were guilty and some were tortured to death.
The same argument follows that overlooking the torture is needed to move forward.
I would argue the exact opposite. The only way of moving forward is by taking a clear hard look backward. It’s quite apparent that many Americans have an inflated view of our nation — or at least our government — as “benevolent” and still the same “city upon a hill”.
While, in reality, we broke international law, invaded a relatively blameless country, tortured many people, and played the fundamental role in a worldwide economic depression. There are also many positives when it comes to America as well, but an honest look needs to be taken, especially in regards to the last eight years.
The main point still remains that laws were broken to disastrous effects and that the perpetrators need to be brought to justice; as I said in my last column, any historical education would be a welcome byproduct of investigations whose primary purpose would be to uphold the law.
If law is not binding it loses its meaning and its power, which come directly from its impartial application. It becomes something that is used to deal out justice when it is convenient and to be withheld when inconvenient; it is an instrument to be used on the basis of the whims of men. If the rule of law is not upheld, our government only differs from monarchies and dictatorships, in the realm of legal matters, by degree.
My knowledge of the Constitution is not terribly in-depth, but I don’t remember ever studying about some “political expediency” clause, that people seem to employ when arguing against investigations and prosecutions. Of course, there are many other hypocrisies related to the current status.
Salon blogger and writer Glenn Greenwald draws a great parallel demonstrating how Bush and company’s free pass fits into the American justice system, which he calls “two-tiered.” Last month, a homeless man who stole a single $100 bill, giving the rest of the money back to the bank teller, who only wanted to stay at a detox center and eat and, out of guilt, returned the $100 dollar bill the next day, was charged with first degree robbery and sentenced to 15 years in prison. But former President Bush, Vice President Cheney and former Legal Counsel John Yoo are happily sitting in comfy retirements, working on fat book deals and sitting on the faculty of UC-Berkeley’s law school, respectively.
It is easy for Americans to become morally outraged when public officials like Eliot Spitzer and Rod Blagojevich blatantly misuse power to little consequence on other people, but somehow less morally outraged when the U.S. government admits that 12 prisoners were tortured to death — a number human rights activists put closer to 100.
The image of George Bush in an orange jumpsuit is something many Americans, myself included, may find hard to swallow. Whatever one thinks of Bush — I obviously don’t like him — understand that he, simply due to the fact that he was my president, is connected with many nationalistic sentiments. He must be investigated and prosecuted, as the concept of blind justice, ingrained in the United States Supreme Court motto “Equal Justice Under Law”, must follow suit. As both President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have said in past weeks, “No one is above the law.”
It will be hard for Obama to do these prosecutions due to the reluctance among Americans to confront the reality of what happened in our name. It would also be pretty certainly a politically unprofitable move. But no one ever said doing the hard thing is easy.
Part III of III