Monday, January 12, 2009

Truth, Justice, OR the American Way

Yesterday's New York Times Op-Ed page (usually a feast on Sundays) had a series on what to do about the almost-universally acknowledged law-breaking of the Bush regime. This discussion makes me want to scream.

The first salvo went to Harvard law professor Charles Fried. This is the screaming part. Fried seems to think that we should just forget about it and move on. The basic idea here, and I've heard it expressed elsewhere far too often, is that the election is all the punishment the Bushies need. This reminds me of The Idiot's own statement in early 2005 that "We had an accountability moment. It was the 2004 election." I am sick and tired of the notion that the vote of the generally ill-informed American people is all the justice that is required. If someone breaks the law, well, just vote 'em out. If we don't vote 'em out, we give tacit approval to anything and everything they do. No. No! NO! Fried uses multiple terms that are just plain false and inappropriate in order to suggest that those who want crimes to be punished do not have the purest intentions. Get a load of this:

"It is a hallmark of a sane and moderate society that when it changes leaders and regimes, those left behind should be abandoned to the judgment of history. It is in savage societies that the defeat of a ruling faction entails its humiliation, exile and murder."

This is insulting. We're not talking about people with whom we merely disagreed or who were just not good at what they did. We're talking about criminals. And yet Fried equates those who wish for a true accounting with savages hell-bent on revenge. Sane and moderate people would just let it go. Bullshit.

Here are some other bullshit terms he uses: "show trials", "persecution", "a politics of hate and revenge", "barbarism and desolation", "night of the long knives", "urge to criminalize", "our own over-lawyered culture".

Fried goes on to admit that these were indeed crimes, but it would just be too much of a hassle to deal with them. Listen, bub, a sane and moderate society would not dream of allowing crimes to go unprosecuted because it might mean we won't get home in time for "American Idol". We do not have an "urge to criminalize". You can't criminalize crime. It's crime already. And calling it something else is what our main problem is here.

Fried ends with a disgusting claim that those who want justice are comparing Bush and Cheney to Hitler and Stalin. This infuriating tactic is the same one that I (and Joel Stein) wrote about in this post. Saying that what you did isn't as bad as what the most horrible people in the universe did is not an excuse. People get arrested for drunk driving too. That doesn't make them Mao but it does make them criminals. We don't let them go and say, "Eh, at least he didn't willfully kill anyone. And it was only one, not like that Saddam guy." Enjoy your tea, Chuck. The rest of us want justice. Including the next contributor...

Next up is Slate's Dahlia Lithwick. This is more like it. Lithwick's piece reads like a direct refutation of Fried's. I have no idea if she read Fried's screeds before she composed this, but she certainly has heard the sad arguments before. It's not complicated. If the law is broken, it is appropriate and mandatory that investigations and, if necessary, criminal proceedings take place. We're a big tough country. We can handle it. Yes, we have other things to worry about, like cleaning up the mess we've got. But we have plenty of fine folks who need work right now. They can help.

The argument that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld et al are going to be punished enough by the shame of having lost an election and having some people mad at them is ridiculous. Have you heard these people lately? They couldn't care less what you or I (or the law) think. The only way to make sure this doesn't happen again is to punish those who broke the law.

"If we declare presumptively that there can be no justice for high-level government officials who acted illegally then we exhibit the same contempt for the rule of law.

It’s not a witch hunt simply because political actors are under investigation."

Last up is Yale law professor Jack Balkin. This is supposedly the calm middle ground between these arguments. The truth is more important than "revenge" or, as some of us call it, justice. I understand this to a point. But truth should lead to justice, if it points that way. I agree with Balkin's most rational argument against the "witch hunt", which is that the Bush team (in their "over-lawyered" fashion) did a bang-up job of providing themselves with legal cover in the form of made-to-order legal "opinions" designed specifically to aid them in a situation like this. Even though we know the true rationale behind it, it's tough to legally trump it.

And, of course, the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (Worst. Law. Ever.) gave them even more cover. With the help of our own congress, thank you very much. Who also were "consulted" on just what was going on, albeit in a roundabout way. Are these same people now going to investigate crimes that they aided and abetted? And make themselves potentially culpable? Good luck with that.

Yes, we need to know the truth. What we know already is horrifying and we know that there is a whole lot more that we don't know. (Known unknowns, anyone?) And the Bushies are going to fight tooth and nail, as they have already, to make sure that we never find out the rest. But we are a weak and pathetic nation if we just allow this to be swept under the rug because we think we don't have the time or energy for it. That's exactly what the Bushies are counting on.


Mrs. Chili said...

Dude?! Were you in the car with me this afternoon when I was listening to this yahoo and YELLING AT MY RADIO?!?!

MAB said...

Glad I missed it. I can't even bring myself to listen to the archived version. Reading it was more than enough.