Thursday, January 29, 2009

Never Too Late For The Truth

Michigan's John Conyers, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, on January 6 introduced bill to create a National Commission on Presidential War Powers and Civil Liberties. The text of H.R. 104 declares

There is established the National Commission on Presidential War Powers and Civil Liberties (hereinafter in this Act referred to as the `Commission') to investigate the broad range of policies of the Administration of President George W. Bush that were undertaken under claims of unreviewable war powers, including detention by the United States Armed Forces and the intelligence community, the use by the United States Armed Forces or the intelligence community of enhanced interrogation techniques or interrogation techniques not authorized by the Uniform Code of Military Justice, `ghosting' or other policies intended to conceal the fact that an individual has been captured or detained, extraordinary rendition, domestic warrantless electronic surveillance, and other policies that the Commission may determine to be relevant to its investigation (hereinafter in this Act referred to as `the activities').

Commonly referred to as a "truth commission," the idea has little support among Democrats or in the Third Estate, obsesessed with the allure of "bipartisanship." In Sunday's Chris Matthews Show, author/jounalist Bob Woodward, NBC correspondent Kelly O'Donnell, the WashingtonPost's Anne Kornblut, and Newseek's Howard Fineman all had roughly the same take (video below) on any effort to extract accountability from the disastrous Bush presidency (transcript here but dialogue reprinted from crooks and liars):

Matthews: How do you read that...what he just said?

Woodward: No. In other words he's not going to, he doesn't want investigations. I mean if, first of all in some of these things, it's so ambiguous and uh, he has got to get beyond the past. He does not want to create the feeling, which in a sense this week he did create by saying he's going to close Guantanamo, that the war on terror is over. It is not over. What he said is some of the tactics, namely torture and harsh interrogation tactics are gone but the war continues and if there is a, some sort of perpetual investigation of these things the message will be we're going soft and I tell you those in the intelligence world and the military and I think Obama himself doesn't want to send that message.

Matthews: Well let's talk about the Republicans on the Hill. What are they worried, aren't they trying to hold Eric Holder's feet to the fire and say "Promise you won't launch an investigation as our new Attorney General".

O'Donnell: Well one of the problems is if they do dig back into all of these things you do lose some of the Republicans support and President Obama's trying to reach out. You also reinforce what detractors of the Bush/Cheney years already think. So there's very little political upside. And so Eric Holder has been certainly tested and they definitely, Republicans definitely want to be able to feel like they can stick with their strong principle of defense without having to worry about digging back into some of those things.

Matthews: Yeah. Anne obviously the people on the left, the netroots people, John Conyers up on the Hill, they want action. They want some kind of at least an extra-legal kind of truth and reconciliation commission like you had in South Africa that doesn't prosecute but does investigate.

Kornblut: And yet we haven't heard any signal from Obama or the White House itself that they would authorize that, encourage it. Even something that would be as sort of as benign as a truth and reconciliation commission, every indication is they want to leave that to reporters, historians. They want to move on, you know the Hill can do what the Hill can do, but they're not behind it.

Matthews: Well why did we prosecute people at Abu Ghraib for abusing prisoners if we're not going to prosecute people who may have authorized that kind of treatment?

Fineman: It is an issue. But Obama has to run the country and he and the leaders of the Democratic Party on the Hill have said "It's not worth the cost". I mean I know that Harry Reid, the Democratic leader in the Senate wants no parts of this. Whatever John Conyers is going to do on the House side, he's going to do and you'll hear a lot of noise from him and maybe some investigations. But it's not going to be backed up by the Democratic leadership in Congress. It just isn't.

(crosstalk)

Woodward: Well who would you investigate and prosecute? I mean the people who did these interrogations and so forth believed with good reason they had authority from the President.

Matthews: They had orders.

Woodward: Now you know it's too late to impeach Bush. It's over.


Though I think the abuses at Abu Ghraib should be only a minor part of any investigation into the criminal behavior of the prior administration, Matthews deserves credit for asking, apparently rhetorically, "Well why did we prosecute people at Abu Ghraib for abusing prisoners if we're not going to prosecute people who may have authorized that kind of treatment?" At the time the case was closed, low-ranking members of the military bore the brunt of blame and punishment, leading a lawyer with the National Security Project of the American Civil Liberties Union to comment "it could not be more clear that prisoner abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan resulted from policies and practices authorized by high-level officials, including military and cvilian leaders. Although the abuse was systemic and widespread, the accountability for it has been anything but."

Tar it as as a "perpetual investigation;" assure us that the leader, in the Senate or the Oval Office, wants "to move on," wanting "no part of this." Worse yet, dredge up a straw man: "it's too late to impeach Bush. It's over." (nothing to see here folks, just move on). It's really a variation of the theme of post-partisanship. But as Moulitsas wrote (albeit spurred by the stimulus bill) today on his dailykos:

Bottom line, there is nothing inherently good about "bipartisanship". The only thing that matters is whether a solution is good or not. Consider that two of Bush's biggest disasters -- his tax cuts and Iraq -- were "bipartisan" affairs. Getting votes from the opposite party doesn't make the underlying legislation any more likely to succeed. If anything, our nation would've been better served with more partisanship during those times....

Moulitsas added "There's one last negative byproduct of bipartisanship -- lack of accountability." As in the stimulus package, so it is with investigating the crowd that ran things the last eight years.

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