Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Revenge is a dish best served?

I read this article last week in Salon about Obama's plans to investigate torture under Bush with great interest. The torture issue has been a particular sticking point for me, as it flies in the face of what I believe the US can be, dare I say "should" (I have issues with that word) be.

(Another part of this was my frustration and dismay with the rhetoric, which I felt spent too little time on the fact that torture doesn't work. Intelligence gained through torture is always viewed as suspect at best, as it is so reasonable to believe a torturee would say anything to get the torture to stop. That's why we don't torture confessions out of criminals - the Inquisition never became the foundational basis for an effective system of justice for a reason.)

But, it has remained kicking around my head because it begs the question of how much Obama's administration will, and how much we want them to, investigate and potentially prosecute wrongdoing by the outgoing administration. (And, yes, I know the linked article specifically addresses this fact, saying that prosecution isn't the stated goal of the torture commission. But, as an investigation with no possibility of prosecution would be a pointless exercise, would contain the implicit assumption that there is nothing to find heinous enough to warrant prosecution, we can safely consider legal action as a possibility.)

Do we want any measure of revenge for the last eight years of negligent incompetence and possible willful deceit? Would you have pardoned Nixon?

Because, I have to tell you, I want some measure of accountability. In particular, and this is something I wanted more forcefully addressed in the campaign despite the political peril, I want a real accounting of the war in Iraq. I want every supporter or the war and very especially the architects of the war to publicly justify every military death and injury, every taxpayer dollar, every civilian casualty. I want the new administration to force a public dialogue, to put to rest the narratives that the Hawks sling around about our decision to invade.

This isn't a simple question, because it goes beyond any personal ax we might have to grind. To demand accountability for the past eight years puts our focus, the Obama administration's focus, on the past, and we have problems to solve that demand foresight and concentrated effort. Will too much focus on redressing of grievances undermine efforts for change?

Or, will fears that it would undermine those efforts provide a convenient cover for some truly incompetent and downright evil to escape accountability?


anna said...

According to the AP today, it's not likely Obama will pursue prosecution.

I can see where trying to hash out who did what under Dubya's watch could be considered antithetical to change or progress. The side of me that insists on justice, however, wants to see the bastards responsible pay for every decision they made, and every life lost as a result of those decisions. Wouldn't that be real change: holding people accountable for their actions?

the beige one said...

Great post, JJ...The topic has been much on my mind of late, and I struggle between my desire to know all of what has transpired and my wish to see justice meted.

I think I would rather know for sure...I would not offer international immunity, however.

Anonymous said...

Would I were wrong, but I don't think the Democraps have the balls to prosecute. Let's face it, they took the House and the Senate two years ago on the platform of ending the war in Iraq and we hardly heard peep from them about it again.

We do need to hold those accountable especially since those in power were effective in passing the buck in the Abu Ghraib scandal (and other abuses) where nine enlisted personnel were sentenced to jail time, all with bad conduct discharges. Out of that mess, one officer was demoted, one was reprimanded which effectively ended his military career and a lieutenant colonel was acquitted on four counts of prisoner maltreatment (after eight other counts were dropped due to the fact that the general questioning him did not read the Lt. Col. his rights). No other officer was held accountable (See the excellent documentary Taxi to the Dark Side" for more on the lack of high level accountability for prisoner abuse.

But, I think they should prosecute not only for accountability, but so the world would see that The United States is greater than a single administration and we do indeed hold ourselves to the same laws and ideals as we hold to others.

the beige one said...

Well put, Sleepy.