Reclaiming Americas Soul, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past. So declared President Obama, after his commendable decision to release the legal memos that his predecessor used to justify torture. Some people in the political and media establishments have echoed his position. We need to look forward, not backward, they say. No prosecutions, please; no investigations; were just too busy.
And there are indeed immense challenges out there: an economic crisis, a health care crisis, an environmental crisis. Isnt revisiting the abuses of the last eight years, no matter how bad they were, a luxury we cant afford?
No, it isnt, because … never before have our leaders so utterly betrayed everything our nation stands for. This government does not torture people, declared former President Bush, but it did, and all the world knows it.
And the only way we can regain our moral compass … is to investigate how that happened, and, if necessary, to prosecute those responsible.
What about the argument that investigating the Bush administrations abuses will impede efforts to deal with the crises of today? Even if that were true even if truth and justice came at a high price …laws arent supposed to be enforced only when convenient. But is there any real reason to believe that the nation would pay a high price for accountability? …
Tim Geithner … wouldnt be called away… Peter Orszag, the budget director, wouldnt be called away… Even the president neednt, and indeed shouldnt, be involved. All he would have to do is let the Justice Department do its job… America is capable of uncovering the truth and enforcing the law even while it goes about its other business.
Still, you might argue and many do that revisiting the abuses of the Bush years would undermine the political consensus the president needs to pursue his agenda.
But the answer to that is, what political consensus? There are still, alas, a significant number of people in our political life who stand on the side of the torturers. But these are the same people who have been relentless in their efforts to block President Obama… The president cannot lose their good will, because they never offered any.
That said, there are a lot of people in Washington who … probably just dont want an ugly scene… But the ugliness is already there, and pretending it isnt wont make it go away.
Others, I suspect, would rather not revisit those years because they dont want to be reminded of their own sins of omission.
For the fact is that officials in the Bush administration instituted torture as a policy, misled the nation into a war they wanted to fight and, probably, tortured people in the attempt to extract confessions that would justify that war. And during the march to war, most of the political and media establishment looked the other way.
Its hard, then, not to be cynical when some of the people who should have spoken out against what was happening, but didnt, now declare that we should forget the whole era for the sake of the country, of course.
Sorry, but what we really should do for the sake of the country is have investigations both of torture and of the march to war. These investigations should, where appropriate, be followed by prosecutions not out of vindictiveness, but because this is a nation of laws.
We need to do this for the sake of our future. For this isnt about looking backward, its about looking forward because its about reclaiming Americas soul.