Saturday, January 10, 2009

No Enthusiasm for the Truth

What we really need, of course, is Smirky, Darth, Rummy, Wolfie, Feith, Yoo, The Mustache, Gonzo, Tenet, and all their minions frog-marched into federal court and prosecuted for War Crimes and Treason.

What we might have to settle for is a fact-finding body like the 9-11 Commission.

Now it appears we won't even get that.

It happens more often than you might think on Capitol Hill: a new bill is announced by a congressional office, with little fanfare and fewer co-sponsors than it deserves but a purpose so abundantly sensible that the plan cries out for more attention.

Such is the case with H.R. 104, a bill introduced on Tuesday by House judiciary committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) and nine other lawmakers. The measure would set up a National Commission on Presidential War Powers and Civil Liberties, with subpoena power and a reported budget of around $3 million, to investigate issues ranging from detainee treatment to waterboarding to extraordinary rendition. The panel's members would hail from outside the government and be appointed by the president and congressional leaders of both parties.

Sounds like a great idea. In fact, it sounds a lot like Senate armed services committee chairman Carl Levin's (D-MI) proposed interrogation-policy commission that has been kicking around since 2005. So why does such a good bill only have 10 co-sponsors?

The answer is complicated -- and neither House Speaker Nancy Pelosi nor Majority Leader Steny Hoyer have returned my calls to talk about it. But I'd wager that it has a lot to do with the Democratic majority's desire to turn the page on the Bush years and begin pressing on with an Obama agenda designed to showcase its ability to govern. Nothing wrong with that.

But as the stimulus plan and financial regulation and health care reform and a host of worthy issues takes up the oxygen in Washington over the coming months, who will make sure that accountability for past misdeeds gets as much attention as current achievements? Who will shed more sunshine on the debacles of the Bush years?

There's support in the House for it (although not yet, it appears, from leadership). There's a constituency in the Senate for it, and inside the Obama camp. Does anybody think that this sleeper bill will get so much as a hearing in any of the three separate committees it's been referred to?

A commission, particularly one that goes beyond mere fact-finding to actual public confessions along the lines of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, is the absolute bare minimum required by an ostensible democracy to deal with criminal behavior by its highest officials.

Although the South African commission succeeded in preventing civil war after the end of apartheid, it failed to achieve genuine justice.

Most believed that justice was a prerequisite for reconciliation rather than an alternative to it, and that the TRC had been weighted in favour of the perpetrators of abuse.

"Justice was a prerequisite for reconciliation." Precisely. The consequences of failing to achieve justice, of allowing perpetrators to escape punishment, are always more severe than any political repurcussions of making criminals pay for their crimes.

And the proof is in the history books.

Because Nixon got away with illegal wiretapping and domestic spying, Reagan and 41 got away with Iran/Contra.

Because Reagan and 41 got away with Iran/Contra, Smirky-Darth is getting away with Treason and War Crimes.

Because Smirky-Darth get away with Treason and War Crimes, what will the next repug who snatches the presidency get away with?

We're half an inch away from being a lawless banana republic.

The key is not how law-abiding the Obama administration is; the key is whether the Obama administration upholds the Rule of Law for everyone, even former presidents.

Cross-posted at They Gave Us A Republic ....