Investigating our past vital to the future

Published 9:54 am Friday, February 13, 2009

In politics, does it ever make sense to criminalize the actions of the past administration of the opposite party?

Should we not be “moving forward” as President Barack Obama argues? And if we open Pandora’s Box of past wrongdoings will we not just begin an endless process of political attacks, party against party? Was not part of the Clinton Impeachment a rebuttal argument in political terms to the forced resignation of Richard Nixon?

At issue are the actions of the Bush administration in four primary areas. First, did this President take us to war using Intel he knew to be false? Second, did the U.S. torture? Third, were U.S. Attorney’s fired wrongly? Fourth, did our government wiretap US citizens illegally?

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In a brand new USA Today Gallup poll 64 percent of respondents believe that there should be investigations into the charges that our government used torture. Seventy percent believe we must investigate what happened in the Justice Department firings.

Clearly, Americans want answers to these questions. But, as Jack Nickolson once famously said, is it possible that “we (sic) can’t handle the truth.”? For what is it that Americans want should they discover that their worst fears and concerns are realized? What if we find that the facts are we tortured, we spied on Americans illegally, we went to war on claims known to be false, and the U.S. Attorneys were fired only because they refused to be political enough?

Is it the knowledge alone that Americans want? Is knowing the truth enough? Or do Americans want those who acted illegally punished by criminal law?

Neither President Obama nor Attorney General Holder have ruled out prosecutions if facts warrant them, but Obama seems disinclined to seek out these prosecutions.

As for the CIA and torture, new CIA Director Panetta has said CIA agents would not be prosecuted for “harsh interrogations” authorized by the Bush Administration supported by legal opinions within the Office of Legal Council.

And Congress seems conflicted about what it hopes to do should the facts reveal illegal acts taken. The Senate, under Senate Judiciary Chair Leahy, seems willing to offer immunity from prosecution to find the truth.

But the House Chair of Judiciary, John Conyers, seems more intent upon uncovering the facts and permitting prosecutions to follow where the law leads.

So the issue becomes, do we want the truth to prevent such things from ever happening again, or do we want to insure that these events never happen again by punishing those who acted illegally, if those are the findings?

It we simply want the truth, not punishments, then creating an Independent commission would be the best vehicle, granting all the necessary immunities to uncover the events that took place.

If what we want is punishment for illegal acts, accountability to our laws, then the evidence will be considerably less willingly forthcoming and the outcome may well lead to some of the highest ranking officials in the Bush administration.

Richard Nixon once said, “When the President does something, it is not illegal.”

Do we believe that? Or do we want to hold an administration accountable to our laws when acting during wartime in the protection of the American people?

If we can assume that our leaders acted in their best intent to protect America does that change following the law? Americans must decide, for there will be investigations.

Violating our laws and treaties with good intent is simply not good enough. We are a nation of law and no person stands above the law. We must follow where the investigations take us … no matter what.

Jim Crawford is a contributing columnist for The Tribune and a former educator at Ohio University Southern.