Sunday, January 11, 2009


Dahlia Lithwick, writing in The New York Times, urges the prosecution of Bush administration figures who made torture possible -- and asserts that many people would be very, very happy to see this issue just go away:

... the almost universal response ... has been a collective agreement that no one need be punished so long as we solemnly vow that such atrocities never happen again.

This hope that the election represents some kind of legal self-cleansing, a constitutional "rebooting" of the rule of law, is of course not the language of the law. It is the language of recovery, of religion, of political pragmatism.

Those who say that there should be no investigation or prosecution of senior officials who authorized torture and warrant-less surveillance rarely even bother offering legal justifications. They argue that the Obama administration has more urgent problems to contend with. They insist that any such process would devolve into partisan backbiting from which this country could never recover....

Others -- including unnamed officials on the Obama transition team -- have already claimed that there is simply no political will for criminal prosecutions, or even a truth commission.

Of course all this is not the language of the law either. It is the language of self-fulfilling prophecy. With each successive recitation that there is no political will, the political will dissipates. With each repetition of the mantra that Americans just want to turn the page on the past eight years, Americans feel ever better about turning the page....

I'll speak for myself: I've argued that it might be appropriate for the Obama administration to turn the page, but I don't feel good about turning the page.

I say it might be appropriate because I'm aware of the ability of Republican politicians and right-wing commentators to launch a holy crusade, even if it means making the gears of government grind to a halt. I saw their government shutdown in the mid-1990s. I saw a president hounded to impeachment for sex. I've seen health-care reform blocked, and reasonable weapon-control legislation blocked in the wake of Oklahoma City and any number of mass shootings. More recently, I saw virtually the entire agenda of the newly elected Democratic Congress blocked after the 2006 election. In every case, the press was tolerant or actively complicit, and the public either grumbled or shrugged, while accepting the result.

If no Bushie is prosecuted for war crimes, I don't think it will be because Democrats are happy to be rid of the issue. I think it will be because Democrats don't want to endure yet another mass-temper-tantrum sabotage campaign. I certainly don't -- and there's every reason to believe that that's exactly what we'd get.

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