Saturday, March 7, 2009

A Bad Idea

John Ibbitson has an op-ed in the Globe and Mail as to whether the US should have a "Truth Commission" to investigate abuses and crimes that the Bush administration committed during the war on terror. (read)

That's not nearly enough for a coalition of human-rights groups; it has called on Attorney-General Eric Holder in a petition "to appoint a non-partisan independent special counsel to immediately commence a prosecutorial investigation into the most serious alleged crimes" of Mr. Bush and his cronies. (Too much Latinate English there, too.)

The problem with hiring lawyers to investigate the government is that they can go rogue. Kenneth Starr was appointed to look into Bill Clinton's real-estate dealings and ended up submitting a report on his adultery.

Also, it becomes retaliatory. Because the Republicans sicced Mr. Starr on the Clinton administration, the Democrats forced the appointment of Patrick Fitzgerald to investigate the Valerie Plame affair. (If you've forgotten it, let it stay forgotten.)

If the Democrats appoint a special counsel to investigate the Bush years, count on the Republicans to one day appoint a special counsel to investigate the Obama years. The only way to reverse this corrosive political culture is for one side to declare a ceasefire. Appointing a special counsel will simply make the war go on.

And a truth commission could be even worse, dragging on for years and conferring immunity on people who should have been charged.

I agree, you get to the point where you are criminalizing policy. The voters have decided. We have a new government. If real crimes are found then we should prosecute. Otherwise this will be partisan grandstanding.

We need to remember what the months after 9/11 were like. Everyone, including the most senior officials, believed another major attack was imminent. Anthrax was in the mail system. The American people demanded that their government go after the terrorists who had so savagely attacked them.

Things got authorized that should not have been authorized. Lawyers came up with opinions that were fig leaves. And a certain paranoia, already percolating through the White House, began to spread.

As fear of another attack subsided, people began having second thoughts. When the United States invaded Iraq on what turned out to be faulty or false pretenses, suspicion turned to anger. Mr. Bush ultimately lost all credibility in the eyes of the American people, the highest price a politician can pay. Unless someone knowingly committed a felony on government service, that's probably enough.

That's what we have to remember. At the time water boarding a terrorist for information that could halt an attack seemed reasonable. That's what they decided to do it at the time. The policy has been rescinded. Let's move on.

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