“Reconciliation” and “Looking Forward Not Backward:” Code for No Justice? February 19, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in About Barack Obama, About Justice, Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush.
Tags: congress, constitution, crimes against humanity, Criminal Justice, cynthia boaz, Dick Cheney, extraordinary rendition, ford, George Bush, george stephanopoulos, gonzales, high crimes, International law, Iraq invasion, justice, justice committee, nixon, nuremberg, nuremberg principle, nuremberg trial, ollie north, president obama, reagan, reconciliation, retribution, roger hollander, rule of law, rumsfeld, special prosecutor, torture, truth commission, us attorney, War Crimes, weinberger, wiretapping, wolfowitz
by Roger Hollander
www.rogerhollander.wordpress.com, February 19, 2009
(SEE UPDATE BELOW)
An essay entitled “Obama’s Justice: Reconciliation Not Retribution” appeared recently in the progressive online journal, Truthout.com (http://www.truthout.org/021809J). Its author is Cynthia Boaz, assistant professor of political science at Sonoma State University, who is described as a specialist “in political development, quality of democracy and nonviolent struggle.”
Professor Boaz’s approach was most annoying in that she felt the need to set up a straw man (the notion that those who want justice want it for purposes of retribution) and resort to the ad hominem by characterizing those who are pushing for investigations and prosecution of the Bush era crimes as “disgruntled, self-identified progressives” and comparing them to “villagers wielding torches and pitchforks.”
But such annoyances pale in light of the implication of her thesis in support of Obama as a “unifier,” and his mission of “reconciliation, not retribution” in an attempt to justify Obama’s oxymoronic and disingenuous statement that he believes in the rule of law but would rather look forward rather than backward.
(To her credit Professor Boaz acknowledges that the Bush administration may have committed misdeeds “which in some cases, rise to the level of crimes against humanity” and does not argue that they should not be brought to justice. Her point is that justice should not be politicized, that the president should not seek “retribution” for his predecessor)
In the real world justice in fact usually occurs in a political context – especially when crimes occur at the higher levels of government. Obama recognizes this and his remarks to George Stephanopoulos were in response to overwhelming public sentiment for him to appoint a special prosecutor as reflected in his transition sounding exercise. Presidents do appoint Special Prosecutors and the United States Attorney General. Presidents grant pardons, often controversial and often of a political nature (Ford/Nixon; Reagan/Weinberger, North, Irangate). The political and the judicial are indeed intertwined.
Talking about “reconciliation” and “looking forward rather than backward” is in itself a blatant political intrusion in the world of justice. If Obama were not signaling to the heads of the Justice Committees in both houses of Congress (and the American people) that he would prefer for them to back off, then he simply would have affirmed his commitment to the rule of law and left it at that.
The evidence that is already in the public domain with respect to the knowingly false pretense for the invasion of Iraq, the high level authorization of torture, the extraordinary renditions, the wiretapping, the U.S. Attorney firings, etc. is so overwhelming that – in spite of the sacred principle of “innocent until proven guilty” – the American and world public cannot be faulted for demanding that the Nuremberg principles be applied to the neo-fascist Bush clique. That former Vice President Cheney, who is universally considered to have been the Bush administration Godfather, has been making the rounds boasting about his role in committing in effect what are crimes against humanity, constitutes an open challenge to anyone who takes the rule of law seriously. Given the literally millions of human beings whose lives have been destroyed or seriously debilitated by the actions of the Bush administration and the gross violations of constitutional and international law, the imperative for speedy justice within the context of due process is overwhelming.
What I fear is some kind of Truth Commission based on the premise of giving immunity for the sake of getting the truth out. This, I believe, is what Obama was getting at with his “looking forward” remark and what Professor Boaz would like to see. Such a notion mocks the concept and dignity of Justice. It gives no closure to those who have suffered at the hands of high level war criminals and it has little or no deterrent effect. What it is is politically expedient.
Do I expect to ever see Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Gonzales, Wolfowitz et. al. in a United States court of law charged with high crimes? Honestly I do not (but I didn’t ever expect to see the election of an Afro-American president in my lifetime either). But genuine truth, reconciliation and justice demand that such high crimes be investigated and prosecuted; those who suffered deserve justice; and the future of what is left of constitutional democracy is worth fighting for.
What is more, if President Barak Obama or anyone else acts in any way to impede or frustrate the carrying out of justice, they become to some extent complicit with the principal perpetuators.
UPDATE (May 1, 2009)
There has been a lot of -pardon the pun – wate(boarding) under the bridge since I wrote this piece in mid February. If you surf around my Blog or the many Blogs I post on it, you will find dozens if not hundreds of articles on the issue of torture and criminal responsibility for it. Just today, for example, I posted an excellent article by Glenn Greenwald that appeared in salon.com which documented the words of, of all people, Ronald Reagan, who, in introducing the law that made torture a serious crime in the United States, states that torture is a crime, with no exception for extraordinary circumstances (including, presumably, the phony “ticking time bomb” scenario). Ronald Reagan!
Professor Boaz, who is the target of my criticism in the original article above, had argued that those of us demanding that now President Obama take criminal action against the Torturers were misunderstanding the role of the presidency. Investigation and criminal prosecution in the bailiwick of the Judicial System, not the presidency she tells us. I wonder what she is thinking now that President Obama has heard, tried and exonerated the CIA agents who carried out the war crime known as torture.
During the longest eight years in history that we lived through under Bush/Cheney, one felt that what was happening as if it were in the realm of the surreal. Anti-war election results, and the war escalates (excuse me, surges). Torture with impunity. Habeas Corpus out the window. Warrantless wiretapping. An ideologically politicized Justice Department. Signing Statements allowing the President to ignore laws passed by Congress. Dr. Strangeglove figures such as Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Rice, Gonzales; and Darth Vader himself disguised as Dick Cheney, bunker and all.
May the goddess help me, I am having the same surrealistic dizziness all over again. The Attorney General declares that waterboarding is torture. Torture is a crime. Therefore … do nothing about it. The President releases evidence in the form of the infamous torture memos that, that along with photographic and other (International Red Cross, for example) evidence, leaves no doubt about the nature and extent of the torture; and then he proceeds to grant amnesty to those who committed the crimes. They were only following orders, he says, as the Nuremburg amnesia sets in alongside the swine flu. Pelosi and Reid want investigations … in secret (!). The mainstream media, as it did under Bush/Cheney, plays along with the Alice in Wonderland fantasies, and the maniacs on the neo-Fascist Right have convinced a signficant percentage of Americans that torture is not a crime under “certain circumstances.” The torture memos written by John Yoo and Jay Bybee are so patently phony and Kafkesque that Yoo is invited to teach law in Orange County and Bybee is made a Federal Judge.
It has been suggested that President Obama doesn’t feel there is the political will to prosecute the war criminals, which is why he has been so wishy-washy, but that he has released the tortue memos and is soon to release more photos as a way to achieve that will. I don’t believe this, but that doesn’t matter. Only by latching on to the the issue like a pit bull and refusing to let go can we who believe in Decency and Justice bring the American War Criminals to justice.