Thursday, March 12, 2009

Truth..the secret weapon against Bush

Seeking the truth about the Bush years

Trying Bush cronies for war crimes won't fly, but Patrick Leahy's truth and reconciliation commission could help restore justice

* Ian Williams
o, Thursday 5 March 2009

I still remember with a frisson of horror being in a hall full of nice American liberal types deeply concerned about the atrocities in Bosnia. There was a wave of indignation when they learned that the Hague tribunal on Balkan war crimes would not be able to pass death sentences.

A similar, one might say, almost conservative, vindictiveness greeted Senate judiciary committee chair Patrick Leahy's suggestion for a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate the Bush administration's alleged crimes against the US constitution and international law. The left wants prosecutions and imprisonments.

It would indeed be satisfying to apply the constitution (under which, one may remember, ratified international treaties are part of the law of the land) to people who clearly treated it so scornfully. President Barack Obama's declaration that his administration would not torture, and would not violate the Geneva conventions implicitly conceded the force of the accusations against his predecessors.

Sadly, however, short of the highly unlikely handing over of George Bush, Dick Cheney and company to the International Criminal Court, it is almost inconceivable that any such trials would take place. The US supreme court that awarded Florida and the presidency to Bush, not to mention the whole chain of judiciary below, is somewhat unlikely to find a former president guilty. If they had been more effective, they would have over-ruled many of the illegal acts even as they were being committed.

Indeed, the courts have shown signs of such overt partisanship, especially but not exclusively those who veer to the right, that even if there were trials, their results would not have common public acceptance. Acquittal or committal would be seen as political favouritism or persecution.

Leahy's proposal would, assuming he can get enough well-respected non-partisan figures to sit on his commission, be a far more constructive process, which could demonstrate just how much the law and constitution were jettisoned after 9/11. Its results would not just be a demonstration of criminality but also a warning for the future.

Above all, if, as Leahy suggests, there would be no threat of prosecution, except refreshingly for perjury, then subpoenaed witnesses will be less able to take the roving Karl Rove road. Rove, along with Harriet Miers, has indeed agreed to testify to Congress about the firing of US attorneys, but only on condition that communications with the president are covered by executive privilege.

Without immunity, many officials may take that route, and the fifth amendment protection against self-incrimination, to weasel their way out of telling the truth. Indeed, with a promise of immunity, no matter how much that upsets the liberal Savonarolas, there is almost an incentive to spill the beans, since anything they clam up about could indeed be the basis for prosecution.

Leahy's commission should not just concentrate on the acts of government. It should also examine the complicity of other actors, including the many in the media who after 9/11 cheered on and condoned acts of government – even though, as John Yoo's recently surfaced opinions for them indicate, they were next on the list. As it was, his proposals about the media did not materialise. After all, who would bother muzzling a toothless dog.

Obama should not only endorse Leahy's proposal, which would surely expose the unprincipled and, dare one say, un-American, behaviour of the party now opposing his economic proposals, he should go farther. A truth commission into how the US and global economy was brought to this pass would indeed need to be bipartisan, since its roots go back through so many administrations, not least Bill Clinton's.

But think how instructive it would be in analysing and dissecting the dogmas that ruined a super-power, not least when the opposition (and indeed some in his own party) have shown no signs of abandoning the dogma. Admittedly, they are so dogmatic, it would have to be truth and ridicule rather than reconciliation, but it would serve to make sure that never again would a bunch off crackpot zealots be allowed to run the nation.

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