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December 04, 2008


Failure to address the various abuses of power and criminal actions of the current administration will almost certainly ensure that they will happen again. President Bush and his cronies systematically undermined the constitution, corrupted the Justice Department, added considerably to the national debt in a ginned up war that has cost tens of thousands of innocent lives, and turned our country into a torture state. As a people, we may ultimately forgive all this, but we can't afford to ignore it. Personally, I wish Horton had also considered rendition.

I think it would instantly turn into a political circus, and become standard at every election in which the power changed party hands: I don't think a single Republican would believe it was anything other than political posturing and petty vengeance, and that it would serve as nothing else could to make the polarization of the country complete and irretrievable.

I understand wanting to make our enemies see that they are despicable, but they never will. They'll only conclude that we're despicable.

I think it's best to drop it and move on. But as you know, I'm deeply pessimistic about this sort of thing.

Hello Beth,

I tried to leave the comment below, but got a message that the site could not accept the data. It's not that the comment is particularly wise; and your post is most certainly wise. I agree with you and thank you for posting it. But seeing the email link I thought to send the comment along.

John Powers

I think it's really important to see what a careful brief Horton's is. I subscribe to Harpers so I can read it online. But because it is so carefully constructed it's nice to see it in print. A visit to the library or even the bookstore where they don't intrude too much really is worth the effort.

Torture grieves me so. Horton points out that even if his suggestion of a Presidential Commission were to happen it is possible that the Commission in good faith and in accordance with the law might determine no prosecutable crimes had occurred. What he's getting at isn't so much a presumption of innocence, but rather the complexity of the law. But I hardily agree with him that outcome would still be a good one because it would serve to educate--inform--the public.

I'm not so good that I don't feel a desire for vengeance. I also know how poisonous that desire can be. You've got it right: "the process also works the other way: the public assumes its proper role as controllers of their own government, with responsibility for the actions that take place in our name." That is essential.

On a personal level, my brother was murdered. When I say that torture in my name grieves me, I mean that literally. Just as I feel grief over my brother's murder. Grief and grieving are important. In my personal experience it became clear that the process of my grieving and the prosecution of the culprits were quite different. I'm not sure that I agree that the public process provides "closure." I am sure I was glad that the case was solved--if incompletely--and very pleased when the public trials were over.

So I think that in a similar way the two step process that Horton proposes will not stop my grieving, or to my shame the howls from my gut that the perpetrators of this terrible obscenity and crime be punished. But this seems a private struggle. With the proviso that the commission process is public and handled in good faith, I will feel a sense of restoration in the public realm. That is the crucial part, as these were political crimes of the highest order. The consequences have ramifications long beyond the present tense.

The misuse of power in any institution damages the whole institution, it does not only hurt the "victims" identifiable by their suffering, all those who supported the institution are really the victims. In this case the victims of this horror are the citizens of the United States of America. So this is not a question of revenge but of healing. It is also important to find out how the misuse of power occurred to prevent it happening again. The Roman Catholic Church's experience with sexual abuse by clergy is a relevant example but a public process that drags on that long is not a cheerful prospect.

Kia ora Beth,
Interesting that the tapes just released from the Nixon years express the same sort of disdain, even hatred fro the very people Nixon and Kissinger were supposed to be protecting. I see little difference with this lot almost 40 years later. Sadly, I have to agree that any process aimed at punishment of these elites will simply further divide the left and right, and turn into a political quagmire. The ultra cons are still lurking out there.

Dale and Robb, you're probably right. Using that logic, why, for example, do the Republicans get to attempt to impeach Clinton for an offense that's offensive, for sure, but absolutely nothing compared to the violence committed by their own administrations? On the other hand, if there hadn't been a public accounting and shaming, I doubt if Clinton would have been able to move on to his current career, and Hillary would have had much more trouble establishing herself too. The public was willing, after that, to let it go. Watergate served a purpose as well, though the top brass were never punished. But in that case, too, it was like confessing and punishing venial sins as opposed to mortal ones. (Well, OK, adultery is supposed to be a mortal sin, especially in America -- but you get what I mean!)

If we're going to say, "turn the other cheek and move on," I understand that, and there's good reason for it, but I suspect we'll never progress or heal, as Vivian points out, as a society until we and our elected officials face up to what we do and what we allow to be done. It's a moot point, though, I'm sure - can't see Obama authorizing anything of the sort.

Please understand that I'd far rather be wrong :-(

And of course I thought Clinton's impeachment was a deeply stupid thing. One of my objections to bringing charges, in fact, against the Bush administration, is that the media would see these things as essentially equivalent, leaving the impression that the crimes of the Bush administration were equivalent pecadillos, and that this is just something you do at the change of power.

Essentially what I'm saying is that I think the American press and public are too childish for this sort of thing to be useful, and we'd best not even try. Which may be somewhat self-fulfilling, I don't know :-(

I agree. It's sad. And maybe the problem is that the worst of the suffering was suffered by others, not by us. When there's a war or a massacre of people like you, in your own country, you can't hide behind "it's somebody else's problem, somebody else's fault" any longer.

I think that we will be noticing the damage that the Bush administration did to Americans' assumptions about their rights and the world's assumptions about Americans' motives from time to time for the rest of our lives. For example, here's a story that didn't make the AP today -- Supreme Court decides to hear the case of
a legal resident of the US who has been held without trial since 2001, with the administration arguing that the president is entitled to hold him on his own say-so.

I think historians of the next generation will look back and damn Bush as the worst president ever. If his depredations on rights, the environment and more aren't lasting, it'll be because people who care look back, identify his spoor, and demand that it be rubbed out.

What speaks volumes to me on a personal level is your use of the word "regime". I do not think I would have ever applied that word to the government of my country at any time previous to this one. To me, the connotations of that word are inherently negative.

I do not want vengeance, but I do believe that there should be punishment for these numerous, hateful and arrogant transgressions. I have read that people privy to their opinions say that both Bush and Cheney not only believe that they were correct in their actions, but that history will deliver them rather than vilify them. No matter how crazy that sounds to you or to me today, I think that horrific miscarriage could come to pass if we do not clearly condemn their actions now.

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