Not Forgetting Torture

Nick Kristof writes:

. . . [A]s George Santayana, the eminent Harvard philosopher wrote: “Those who forget history are destined to repeat it.” Rather than lose forever the chance to grow from our missteps, here’s a two-step proposal for confronting the past without distracting from the work on the economic crisis.

The first step is to appoint a high-level commission — perhaps a McCain-Scowcroft Commission? — to investigate torture, secret detention and wiretapping during the Bush years, as well as to look ahead and offer recommendations for balancing national security and individual rights in the future.

Kristof's good faith proposal ignores the fact that the US policy on interrogation and detention policies and on wiretapping is a live issue (the President has convened a task force to study the issues) and it is the role of Congress to investigate, oversee and enact legislation regarding these issues. I have no objection to blue ribbon commissions but the Congress can not abdicate its Constitutional responsibilities. There is work to do on these issues, and it is work for the Congress and the President. No shirking. Thus when Kristof writes:

As a nation, we’ve repeatedly trampled on individual rights during moments of national fear . . . We’ll be better off if we come to some consensus on these issues. The Kerner commission on race and the 9/11 commission are both examples of how we as a nation used such panels to gain a better understanding of our shortcomings. Such a commission would also help heal the divisions with the rest of the world and help renew America’s reputation.

(Emphasis supplied.) Kristof ignores that our Constitution requires that "consensus" be reflected in our laws, duly enacted by our Legislative Branch, with the approval of our President. We live in a representative democracy. We should honor our Constitution by living by its principles. Kristof prescribes an attempt to avoid our constitutional system. Indeed, it has been one of the most pernicious tendencies the nation has adopted in the past few decades. It is another bit of history we should avoid to repeat. Kristof's proposal would reinforce this pernicious tendency.

Speaking for me only

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    Kristof seems to be operating (none / 0) (#1)
    by ruffian on Thu Jan 29, 2009 at 08:14:29 AM EST
    on another plane, where blue ribbon commissions are formed and yes, contribute to the knowledge of the topic, and then those results are studied and quoted forever by people like Kristof. Also they raise America's reputation in the eyes of the international community of people who serve on blue ribbon commissions. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

    I quibble with his suggestion of McCain to lead it however. The man has the attention span of a gnat.

    I got cut off before I could finish... (none / 0) (#4)
    by ruffian on Thu Jan 29, 2009 at 08:26:10 AM EST
    ...the danger of working-while-commenting...

    It does seem like shuffling these issues off on such commissions takes away attention from the work Obama's task force is doing, which is the work that will make it through to law. There are a lot of things competing for attention these days. I don't want to see it diluted.

    Of course, I am assuming - giving the benefit of the doubt - that I will like the results of Obama's task force. Maybe in two years I'll be screaming for an alternative look.

    One question - are those that read George Santayana condemned to repeat him? Enough already.


    Do you think (none / 0) (#2)
    by Steve M on Thu Jan 29, 2009 at 08:21:03 AM EST
    that it would be a good idea to appoint a special prosecutor-type person to assess whether charges should be brought against individuals from the prior administration?

    I personally think it's a bad idea because it's an unavoidably political decision that ultimately needs to be made at a higher level than that.  It's another version of abdicating responsibility.

    I think that (5.00 / 0) (#3)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Thu Jan 29, 2009 at 08:24:08 AM EST
    if evidence is produced by the Justice Dep't that indicates a criminal investigation is appropriate, a special prosecutor would likely be appropriate, given the prior statements of high ranking officials, including the likely AG, on these issues.

    There is a process that exists for this -- it should be followed.


    I agree (none / 0) (#8)
    by Saul on Thu Jan 29, 2009 at 08:39:02 AM EST
    that if Bush, Cheney, Gonzales, Rove, etc etc are found to have committed a crime they should be brought to trial.  I was surprise that Bush did not preemptively pardon them all on his way out.

    However, Obama seems that he has no stomach for this from what I saw on the news one day.

    Holder is suppose to be independent of any winks and nods from anybody to include his own appointer but we know from the past how that is followed. Loyalty first.


    I dunno (none / 0) (#14)
    by Steve M on Thu Jan 29, 2009 at 10:56:45 AM EST
    Would it really seem any more apolitical and independent if, say, Jamie Gorelick rather than Eric Holder is the one to authorize the filing of charges against Bush and Cheney?  My contention is that if you're going after the very top officials of the outgoing administration, it is impossible to remove the appearance of politics from the decision and it just ends up looking like buck-passing.

    Let me put it this way.  I think you and I would agree that the criminality of Bush and everyone else in the decision chain on the torture issue cannot be reasonably disputed.  If none of them are prosecuted (the most likely scenario), the reason will certainly be political considerations.  I don't see how this is even debatable.

    Having reached that conclusion, why not just have the political decisions made by the political actors.  When the decision is big enough, I don't feel you can delegate it.


    Just rules do not ... (none / 0) (#5)
    by Robot Porter on Thu Jan 29, 2009 at 08:27:22 AM EST
    just rulers make.

    And that's the whole reason for the checks and balances of our system.  

    The extra-congressional creation of "blue ribbon panels" too often allows congress to shirk their responsibilities as one of these checks.

    The GOP just got to (5.00 / 1) (#10)
    by Salo on Thu Jan 29, 2009 at 08:58:17 AM EST
    Purify their ideology on the stim package with an ugly assed partisan vote. We could be doing the same thing for a year or so.    

    One of the two gets more attention lately (none / 0) (#6)
    by Saul on Thu Jan 29, 2009 at 08:32:43 AM EST
    I agree that we do not need a separate panel to over see  if any illegal things were done in the area of torture and just following the Constitution should be all we need to go by but lately it seems that more attention is paid to a blue ribbon panel investigation concerning a certain area in the government than the Constitution.  

    I think we need both.

    I also agree that McCain is not a good choice to be on this panel,  even though he talked tough on no torture during the election. I feel now that he lost and Obama won the fire in the belly against torture is not there like it was during the election.

    Plus he already compromised (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by ruffian on Thu Jan 29, 2009 at 08:37:18 AM EST
    himself by basically supporting torture by another name in the law 2 years ago - was it the Military Commissions Act? On the other hand, maybe he'd rise to the occasion if given a big job. Kinda doubt it though.

    How about stop (none / 0) (#9)
    by Salo on Thu Jan 29, 2009 at 08:52:08 AM EST
    Ping the imperial bullying? No need to tortuure after you make that leap.

    Do you think the majority of members (none / 0) (#11)
    by Anne on Thu Jan 29, 2009 at 09:03:58 AM EST
    of Congress know that they have Constitutional responsibilities and obligations?  Or could tell you what they are, aside from the generic "preserve, protect and defend" boilerplate they all recite when sworn in?  

    I'm not altogether sure that they do, which is a pretty sad conclusion to reach.

    That being said, Kristof's op-ed set my eyes to rolling; it didn't even make sense to me.  On the one hand, he says it would be a non-partisan commission, but the conclusions would be delivered by Republicans, so that the credibility and validity of their conclusions would derive from the fact that there were no Democrats anywhere near it?  Huh?  Is this Kristof's idea of a jury of the Bush administration's peers?  For crying out loud, we just spent eight years listening to Republicans from all corners of the military and the government defend their actions, so why does Kristof think that a blue-ribbon panel that comprises the same kinds of people would reach a different conclusion?

    This may be about the dumbest suggestion I've heard in a long, long time.  And also one of the most offensive.

    How much more is hidden? (none / 0) (#12)
    by mmc9431 on Thu Jan 29, 2009 at 09:31:42 AM EST
    We've spent eight years being told by every Republivan out there that nothing illegal was done. So why are they now all so fired up to stop any investigation?

    I remember when Republican's pushed the FISA bill, we were told constantly that we had nothing to fear at having our phones tapped, unless we were doing something wrong in the first place. Well then by that same logic, they shouldn't fear an investigation now.

    Confused (none / 0) (#13)
    by jsj20002 on Thu Jan 29, 2009 at 09:39:11 AM EST
    Kristof has conflated four very different subjects in this editorial.  All are worthy of much deeper analysis than he gives them.  First, and I thank him for it, he keeps alive the issue of whether we need to investigate the war crimes of the Bush Administration.  I do not agree to appointing anyone who holds an elective office to this task. Rather I would suggest a top level criminal prosecutor, perhaps a retired Judge Advocate General of the Army. Second, he talks about closing Gitmo -- a good idea that needs much better presentation to the public than we have seen yet.  Third he talks about giving Gitmo back to Cuba -- another good idea that might follow our renewal of diplomatic relations. Finally, as an alternative, he suggests turning Gitmo into a U.S. tropical medicine research facility --another good idea that would not be inconsistent with giving the base back to Cuba.  All in all, four interesting ideas that each deserve their own editorials.