Never Forget


We have heard this before. I was struck when I heard it said by a former Israeli Prime Minister many years ago prior to the actual process that led to the Camp David Accord. It sounded right.Yesterday, President Obama released memos from the Bush Administration justifying the use of interrogation methods which can only be described as torture. And even though I believe Obama was right to say there would be no prosecutions, his decision not to press ahead with criminal charges against CIA officers who used these memos to justify their behaviour has left many in his liberal base upset and bewildered. In other words, interrogators appear to have been told they can do wrong and everything will be forgotten.

The ACLU was first off the mark to sound the clarion of protest. Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy was clearly disappointed with Obama’s approach because any future prosecution will likely be more difficult as a result. Obama media backers were also highly critical of the move and speculated loudly that such a chilling and despicable episode in US history could be repeated unless offenders were prosecuted. Judicial initiatives in other countries against torture during the Bush years could very well be compromised as a result of Obama’s reluctance to prosecute.
However, Obama wishes to be transparent and, in this regard, he has passed the test. And just like President Ford pardoned Richard Nixon to end “our long national nightmare,” Obama wishes to move on from the Bush years. It is very much in his temperament to avoid division and polariarization. The question is, how wise is this approach? If America is indeed truly ashamed of this dark chapter in its history, should it be doing more to prevent a repeat performance? America has had other tragic episodes in the past: racist lynchings, the witchhunts, and McCarthyism as a whole. Watergate and political corruption have also had their day and, despite corrective actions, each of these mistakes have been repeated in various forms.

The Bush torture memos, however, are unique in their tone and manner. The events of 9/11 went a long way to create the hysteria that led to the memos and the media did little to shift the balance. Journalists embedded themselves with the troops in Iraq and Gitmo was never a secret. Where were the liberal voices, then? Of course, it is hard to dispute the claim that punishment is necessary. But a president must do more than seek retribution. After all, this is what brought about those chilling memos in the first place.

A president must exercise wisdom. And that is where Obama may be making his point. The Constitution and American democracy must also do its job. The Nuremberg trials brought some form of justice, but they did not prevent other genocides. Perhaps Obama is telling Americans the entire country is partly responsible for the mistakes of the Bush years. They knew about Gitmo and Abu Ghraib, yet they re-elected the man responsible for them. They knew about Cheney and Haliburton, yet they put Cheney back in power in 2004. Having Bush in office for eight years was punishment enough for Americans. Finally, Obama is telling voters that if they do not want a repeat performance, they should just elect people who will respect the Constitution. That’s the best way to never forget.


Never Forget

  1. “The Nuremberg trials brought some form of justice, but they did not prevent other genocides.”

    One of the defences of those prosecuted during the Nuremburg trials was that they “…were just following orders…”. I personally don’t believe that anyone should suspend their moral judgement in favour of their employer’s/ commander’s directives, but I can see how others might, especially for those in a military or quasi-military organization like the CIA.

    I can understand Obama’s reticence to prosecute those who could use this as a defence. If the expectation is that people follow orders NOW, you can’t really prosecute them for following orders in a previous regime. If the CIA is told that they must use their individual moral judgements when considering an executive directive, that would make it very difficult to hold anyone accountable for anything that the CIA subsequently did.

    The people who SHOULD face prosecution are those who wrote those directives. Unfortunately, due to things like “Executive Privelige”, they probably won’t.

    • Your last point pretty well sums it up. Prosecute the bastards who wrote those directives! Obama may wish to avoid laying blame, but if no-one is held accountable – either at the time, or afterwards, then what’s the point of having any standards at all? The problem lies with the unchecked nature of executive privilege. No-one – i repeat no-one – should be above the law!

  2. With Ford/Nixon, there’s a big difference between pardoning someone and refusing to try them in the first place.

    In fact, trying the Bush administration but pardoning them if they are found guilty might be the right balance for Obama.

    • Pardoning Nixon seemed like a good idea at the time, and certainly Ford was a moral man, but i’ve always contended that it was a mistake, and may well have led to the duplicitious, and morally bankrupt actions of the Bush/Cheney cabal.

  3. Or Obama wants to avoid banana-republic behaviour by retroactively punishing people for activities that were legal at the time.

    I also think Obama has an eye on his admin and how it will treated by next admin. How about Obama’s decision to let Predators attack people within Pakistan. It is extralegal action and could conceivably be punished by next pious bunch to take office.

    Being president is a messy job and I imagine they make all sorts of decisions that may not fall entirely within the law.

    • I must admit that jwl gives food for thought .The use of predators is an act of warfare but memos distorting the constitution to justify torture is far different . You cannot take out the Republican out of jwl completely.

  4. We should never forget the terrorists. Secret information should stay secret .

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